Monthly column: Poor communication about new pay-to-play tennis courts

Cllr Carl Meader at Southfield tennis courts. Image: Bedford Borough Labour Group
Cllr Carl Meader at Southfield tennis courts. Image: Bedford Borough Labour Group

Along with many other Bedford Labour Group Councillors I was shocked to find works have taken place on the well-used tennis courts in my Kempston South Ward without any consultation at all with local councillors or the public.

When residents contacted me, concerned that the courts were locked and children were attempting to scale the fence to get in and play, I went along to have a look.

A combination lock had indeed been installed.

I immediately made enquiries with the Portfolio Holder who said the gates had been locked for maintenance work. He agreed that the communication had been poor and at the very least a notice should have been left on the gates explaining the situation.

I was aware of a similar issue which led to a petition about the tennis courts in Bedford Park. In Harpur Ward, Labour Councillors discovered that the courts in Linden Road had been locked too. They contacted council officers to complain.

The locks have presently been removed and Harpur Councillors are due to meet with the officers this week to try to get more clarity.
The tennis court facilities are popular throughout the year, residents are used to being able to turn up and play whenever they like.

Now it seems that an as yet unknown company will be issuing codes upon payment of an as yet unknown fee in order to access the refurbished courts. No residents that I am aware of knew this change was about to be thrust upon them.

Our parks and public spaces are one of the best assets Bedford Borough has and provide valuable space for residents to walk, meet friends, play football and use the children’s play parks, basketball courts and gym equipment.

The tennis courts were an important part of that. The new facilities are very much improved – but that’s no good if people can’t afford to access them.

Booking in advance and paying a fee will mean that many residents will be put off using them. As yet, there has been no communication or discussion about when or how any free periods will operate.

The Tory administration should have discussed this fully with all Borough Councillors before these changes were agreed.

Consulting with councillors of all parties, many of whom have lots of experience and knowledge of the residents they serve, before major decisions are made would perhaps save the current administration from making unpopular choices.

These have included, their initial decision to axe the River Festival and the siting of Winter Wonderland in Bedford Park – from which the ground still hasn’t recovered.

I hope the administration will now discuss the future use of the tennis courts with all other councillors. I hope they will listen.

They must guarantee that there will be at least some periods at courts throughout the Borough when they are open to all without payment or booking, so if people feel like a game they can pick up their racquets, go along to their local park, and play.

This is a monthly guest column provided by
Cllr Carl Meader, leader of Bedford Borough Labour Group.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the
views of the Bedford Independent.