Protest against plan to charge tennis players £5 an hour to use Bristol courts
A retired youth worker staged a one-man protest against plans to charge tennis players £5 an hour to use courts in a South Bristol park.
Bristol City Council is consulting the public on introducing charges at the courts, as a way to pay for the long term maintenance. Annual memberships would be available for £35 per household with concessions for those on low income.
Wesport, a charity, would run and operate the courts, and players would have to book online in advance before they could play. The consultation ends on Tuesday, July 18, but sparked a “silent protest” on Wednesday, July 12, from a retired youth worker sat in front of the courts.
Dave Wherrett said he helped get the courts refurbished 10 years ago. He now wants the council to refurbish the courts again and also keep them free to play.
Mr Wherrett said: “This is penalising those on lower pay and children, who everybody at the moment is trying to get to have a fitter and more active lifestyle. If they can’t pay, then they won’t be able to play. There’s no need to make these courts pay-to-play.
“I’m being told different things by different people. The council officers say there’s no money available, but councillors tell me there is money available. Basically one or the other is not right. Most people are against making it pay for play, that’s the stance of ordinary people as I see it.”
The charity operating the courts would provide free coaching for children and install floodlights so people can play for longer in the evenings. The planned new charges are also backed by a local volunteer group, due to the extra funding for maintenance.
Sian Ellis-Thomas, chair of the Friends of Redcatch Park, said: “They do need some attention pretty quickly. The paint has worn off and the surface starts to deteriorate very quickly, and that can cause issues with the surface being safe to play on. They’re playable right now, but by the end of the year they won’t be.
“There’s no money in the budget at Bristol City Council’s parks department to pay for courts. That’s just a fact, I didn’t make it up, there’s just no money. If you find money, you don’t just have to do the renovation, you have to find money for the maintenance. We need a long term solution.
“Unfortunately there has been a lot of misleading information by our local councillor [Gary Hopkins] in terms of what funds are available. But we, as the Friends of Redcatch Park, because we are dealing with the council, we understand what is available and how we access it. He’s not been perfectly truthful: saying there are funds available is just not true.”
Last month the Friends of Redcatch Park made a formal complaint about Cllr Hopkins, alleging him of “bullying and misogyny”. Cllr Hopkins denied the allegations as a “crude smear”.
Cllr Hopkins, of the Knowle Community Party, said that the new charges would put off young people due to the cost and elderly people because of the need to book online. He added that money was available for a refurbishment, potentially from a pot of funding called the community infrastructure levy (CIL), which property developers must pay to local councils.
Cllr Hopkins said: “We’ve got the money in local funds to do them up good enough for five or seven years before they would need to be redone again. It would cost £13,000 to do the courts up and they would last about seven years. We’ve also got local CIL money, and our share for the ward is likely to be about £60,000.”
Dave Brown, a tennis player who regularly uses the courts, said they should stay free. He added the charges would put off teenagers and parents with young children from playing.
He said: “I love it, we’re up here every Wednesday and Friday. It’s very nice. It’s got to be kept free. You’d be denying all the people, all the kids who are in here playing. We get up here regularly some young lads about 14 years old, but I don’t think they would be paying, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.
“Paying £35 to come up here just when your kids want to, I’m talking young kids that are two or three years old and they’re running around trying to hit the ball. I can’t see their parents paying £35 just for the occasion that you might be up here three or four times a year.
“And a lot of working class people of course, a young man with kids is not going to be able to afford it. The courts could be improved, some of the white lines are getting a bit faded, but other than that it’s not too bad at all. It’s not falling apart.”