Plans to lease the tennis courts in Romilly Park, Barry, to Tennis Wales have been met with hostility from many residents of the area, though the Vale Council has said that the joint project between them, Tennis Wales and Sport Wales is “essential to ensure tennis facilities remain a feature of Romilly Park”.
Councillors say a formalised booking system with charges will ensure a high level of court maintenance, avoid queues and deter vandalism at the site.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council allocated £75,000 to refurbish the site, which will be partially funded by a £45,000 grant from Tennis Wales and a £30,000 grant from the Welsh Government’s ‘Sport and Leisure Covid-19 Recovery Fund’.
Work will see the courts transformed, with ultra-modern surfaces installed and a new booking system to ensure no-one has to wait for a game or risk not being able to play and, according to the Council, this refurbishment is “essential to ensure tennis facilities remain a feature of Romilly Park” adding in a statement on the matter that “it is hoped the move will encourage more people to use them”.
Critics of the plans are concerned that children will be discouraged from using the courts, and argue that free-to-use courts are used by many people who can’t afford to pay fees or membership rates.
Speaking about the upcoming refurbishment, Vale of Glamorgan Council Leader Neil Moore said: “If we can upgrade them and a recognised body can run them on our behalf on a lease basis, then that’s fine by me.”
Following the completion of works, the site would be managed and maintained by Tennis Wales via a seven-year lease.
Cllr Kathryn McCaffer, Vale of Glamorgan Council Cabinet Member for Leisure, Arts and Culture, said:
“The Council is committed to providing the best possible facilities for its residents to enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle.
“This objective is shared by both Tennis Wales and Sport Wales who are key partners in the proposed refurbishment of the courts at Romilly Park.
“The project is firmly committed to increasing the number of people regularly playing tennis at this much-loved location.”
However, Katie Walmsley, commenting on social media, warned the end of informal, open access to the courts, and the introduction of charges, risked discouraging children and families from using the facilities. “For me the cost might not be too high, but I think for kids/ parents/ anyone at a loose end on the weekend, the informal, free access to the court encourages people to play.”
“My concern is this will be a barrier to access to people who just want to have a go, or kids who are looking for something to do.”
“The council and Tennis Wales should have engaged with the local community on this – there aren’t even any notices around the courts flagging the legal notice. They ‘apologised’ to Cardiff residents for not talking to them before doing this there – but they’ve not spoken to residents in Barry about this either.”
The Vale Council has said that they have always set charges for the use of their courts, but that they have not been collecting fees for a number of years as it has not been economical to do so. Additionally, the Council has assured residents that the courts will operate on a non-profit basis, with money reinvested into maintenance and any surplus used to fund tennis activity in Romilly Park and the wider Vale.
Those opposed to the plans have been asked to submit their objections to the intended disposal in writing. But this week, some were still waiting for responses from local councillors.
“No public consultation is shocking,” said Bev Jones.
“Seems like a done deed. Romilly Park was gifted to the public and the courts should be kept for informal use. What’s the point in pre-booking if the weather becomes bad?”
In a letter to a concerned resident, the operational manager: leisure and tourism David Knevett said:
“Tennis Wales will proactively engage local community groups to provide free access tennis opportunities all year round that will encourage more people to play.
An extensive community coaching programme will also operate from the courts enabling more people to play the sport.”
Jamie Clewer, Head of Participation for Tennis Wales, said:
“Safeguarding and investing in park sites across Wales is a key part of our tennis opened strategy to ensure that park courts remain open and safe for the long term as an opportunity for people to play the sport locally. Park courts are a crucial location where many people first play the sport or play socially with friends and family.
“Romilly Park is a much-loved location in Barry and we want to ensure tennis remains a key part of the parks attraction for local people. We’re going to work with the local community to provide free teacher training and tennis equipment into local schools, offer community coaching programmes for adults and children to engage more players and ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to try tennis and see it as the sport for them.”
Journalist writing news stories for Bro Radio.