Plans for the District’s tennis facilities

Background

The Council has been reviewing the management arrangements of Council owned tennis, athletics, and football facilities. For tennis, the Council has been working closely with the Lawn Tennis Association to draw up the plans with the aim of improving the tennis facilities and activities on offer, getting more people playing tennis and making the courts more financially sustainable.

The Council’s Cabinet committee met on 9 December and agreed changes to way the Council will manage its tennis courts. The changes include:

  1. appointing tennis operator(s) to run community tennis programme at all of the Council owned tennis venues
  2. installing booking and gate access systems at all venues
  3. introducing further courts charges in Christchurch Gardens and Abbey Fields

Full Cabinet report and appendices (Item 10)

The Council owns 21 tennis courts:

  • Victoria Park, Leamington - 10 courts
  • Christchurch Gardens, Leamington – 4 courts
  • Abbey Fields, Kenilworth – 5 courts
  • St Nicholas Park, Warwick – 2 courts

A programme of refurbishment is already in progress, including resurfacing and new fencing. The courts in St Nicholas Park, Christchurch Gardens and Victoria Park have already been upgraded in recent years.

There are plans to upgrade the remaining courts in Victoria Park after the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and the courts in Abbey Fields after the completion of swimming pool works in 2023. 

The plans

Tennis operators

The Council wants to encourage more people to be physically active and the tennis courts play an important role in this. However, at present there are no organised, community activities or coaching programmes on offer on three out of the four sites (Christchurch Gardens, Abbey Fields, and St Nicholas Park).

The Council has therefore agreed to appoint one or more tennis operators to run an affordable and inclusive tennis programme at each of the sites, with the aim of getting more people taking part. 

The programmes will include:

  • Tennis For Free – free weekly sessions open to the whole community
  • An inclusive programme, including walking and disability tennis
  • Accessible and affordable adult and junior coaching
  • Children’s holiday camps
  • Local Tennis Leagues – an opportunity to play friendly competitive tennis
  • Racquets and balls will also be available for hire, so anyone can turn up and play

In addition, the courts will also remain available for anyone to book to play tennis outside of the programmed activities.

The Council will run a tender exercise during 2022 for interested tennis operators, which could see the new operator(s) in place towards the end of 2022. The purpose of the tender will be to find the right operator to provide the best community programme for each venue.

This could result in an arrangement ranging from a different tennis operator for each site, to one operator running all sites.

Extending court hire charges

The pandemic and increased costs of delivering public services means the Council is facing increasing financial pressures. While the Council has some funding for the current refurbishments (to 2023), a future budget is required for ongoing maintenance and upkeep.

Currently, the income received does not cover the ongoing costs for running the courts. This means there is a risk that the Council will not be able to afford to run the tennis venues in the future. 

At present, some courts are free (Abbey Fields and Christchurch Gardens), and others have a charge (Victoria Park and St Nicholas Park). The Council has agreed to introduce future charging for Abbey Fields and Christchurch Gardens. The additional income will be used to pay for the upkeep of the courts and will be important to ensure that the tennis courts are adequately funded into the future.

The Council has agreed the principle of charging at these two sites. The detail of the pricing will be worked up at the next stage in 2022. It will include hourly rental charges and also annual passes. Some free sessions and concessionary rates will remain.

The pricing policy will take account of similar facilities in the area and will be designed to ensure tennis is an accessible and affordable activity for local communities. The revised charges would be introduced on a venue-by-venue basis and only once the planned refurbishment work has been completed, which in the case of Abbey Fields, is planned for 2023, following the completion of the swimming pool redevelopment.

Booking and gate access systems

At present it is not possible for residents to book courts at Christchurch Gardens or Abbey Fields.  This means residents do not know if courts will be available on arrival at the venue.

The Council has agreed to install the Lawn Tennis Association’s booking and gate access system at each of the Council’s four tennis venues. The booking system (ClubSpark) allows customers to pre-book courts and makes it easier for operators to programme activities such as coaching, taster sessions, court hire, school camps, etc.

ClubSpark also provides a way for customers to make payments for court hire on-line or over the phone. When players book a court online, they will receive a 4-digit code which is keyed into a courtside keypad and releases the gate lock.

Consultation

A consultation ran from 28 September - 24 October 2021 seeking to understand residents’ views on:

  1. Proposals to appoint one or more tennis operators to run community activities, coaching programmes and manage court bookings
  2. The principle of introducing court charges for Abbey Fields, Kenilworth and Christchurch Gardens, Leamington Spa

The feedback from this consultation was be considered, along with other other evidence, and was used to inform the decisions made by the Council’s Cabinet on 9th December 2021.

In total 224 people responded to the consultation online survey, in addition to a small number of comments received from individuals and stakeholder groups.

Residents were asked about views on the proposal to appoint tennis operators. The responses reflected a range of views, with just over half of respondents in favour of the proposals or giving a neutral response.

The views received about the proposals to introduce charging at Christchurch Gardens and Abbey Fields were also varied. On balance, just over half of the respondents appreciated the need to introduce further affordable charges in order to fund the future maintenance of the courts.