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Montefiore Avenue Tennis Courts - The History So Far (Aug 07)

The story starts as far as we can tell with a decision somewhere within TDC that the tennis courts at Montefiore Avenue were surplus to requirements and if developed could enable a development site to be sold at the rear of the courts.  Despite a Freedom of Information search HOOT has not been able to pin down the date of this decision, by whom it was taken and on what evidence it was based.

What is fact is that on the 7th June 2006 the site was registered with the UK Land Registry; this is a necessary precursor to any eventual sale as the Local Authority has owned the site since 1948. It has been a public tennis court and bowling green since 1913. Strangely in nearly 50 years of public ownership it had not been deemed necessary to register it until June 2006.

On the 15th of September 2006 a senior TDC planning officer, emailed senior colleagues at TDC with an assessment of the site. The email reads more like the opinions of a speculative property developer than that of town planner. The email described the development potential for the site that other departments within TDC had been contacted for their opinions and in essence the author saw no obstacles in the way of development. The email is also revealing as much for what it does not say as for what it says; nowhere does it contain any reference to serious planning issues like the environment, Local Plan policies, consultation with users, residents or local Ward Councillors.

Despite all this behind the scenes activity local residents and their representatives were unaware of any proposals for another 5 months. Then Ward Councillors discovered that the sale of this site was to be decided at a Council Cabinet Meeting scheduled for the 6th February 2007, giving them and local residents just 5 days to voice their opinions. The matter was concealed in a seemingly innocuous agenda item described as:- "telecomm mast at Southwood and miscellaneous disposals". Integral to the initial proposal was the sale of a fictional "depot" in King George VI Park (the only depot in the park was actually in the stable yard sold years ago to Phillip Dadds the Architect). This sale was touted as solving alleged vandalism to the Italianate Greenhouse which is now under the control not of TDC but of Mr Dadds.

At the Cabinet meeting local residents produced a hastily gathered petition of 350 signatures that was summarily dismissed by TDC's Leader Cllr. Ezekiel. The matter was forced through amid a great deal of public protest and local anger, both at the proposals, the manner by which they were presented and the way local views were totally ignored.

As a consequence of this flawed decision by TDC's Cabinet a public meeting was held on the 22nd of February supported by around 100 residents at which "HOOT" (hands off our tennis) was formed. HOOT is a loose association of like-minded individuals dedicated to fighting these plans using the various skills of local residents, with the objective of having the entire idea scrapped.

The first success was that the proposed sale of part of King George VI Park (the fictional "depot") was withdrawn. Subsequently HOOT asked our local ward councillors Councillors Fenner and Poole to raise this issue with TDC's Scrutiny committee. The initial Scrutiny Committee postponed the item, however on the 29th of March the matter was considered with the result that there was a unanimous decision by the committee that the earlier cabinet decision on the 6th of February was flawed. In the view of the Scrutiny Committee TDC had not correctly followed asset disposal procedures, they had failed to consult with the public or Ward Councillors and had ignored other issues like the environment. This is particularly pertinent as the site proposed for development is next to a KCC created nature area associated with Holy Trinity Primary School and is adjacent to the park. The scrutiny panel agreed with HOOT representatives John Farley and Geoffery Johnson that this was an environmentally sensitive area and needed further investigation. 

HOOT organised its first family day and were astounded at the response with 400 people attending supported by such figures as the local MP Dr Ladyman and Ramsgate's Mayor Councillor Steve Ward.

There is not a scintilla of support locally for doing anything but leaving the site as it is. Part of the site is used for informal play, dog walking and so on and the tennis courts are very well supported despite the fact that TDC ceased to leave the nets in situ for the last 3 winters so reducing the usage, an unfortunate coincidence one might say. Figures released by TDC for the 5 months of the 2006 season show that there is an average of between 50 and 100 users per week on these tennis courts over the whole period when payment is necessary. They are free before 10am and after six so total usage is much higher.

Hoot have the support of many of the Local sports clubs, Roger Draper who is the CEO of the Lawn Tennis Association of Great Britain has visited the site and has pledged to help the campaign. Central to the arguments put forward by TDC to cloak this sale in respectability is the central point that the audit of sports provision found a surplus of conventional courts and a notional shortage of floodlit courts. This was arrived at by taking a 30% lower standard of provision than is recognised nationally (using the infamous deprivation indices) and TDC have proposed to replace the four tennis courts with 2 floodlit tennis courts. However HOOT believe TDC recognise that this is not a realistic proposal due to running cost, environmental issues (floodlit courts next to a nature reserve) and the need for supervision; It will be proposed to gain acceptance of the scheme and will fall by the wayside in due course.

One of the pillars of justification cited by TDC is the PPG 17 audit of sports facilities, it is an audit (in effect a counting exercise), not a survey or an examination of policy and contains serious flaws. It did not investigate usage levels or the views of users of tennis facilities. Officers have merely recited the convenient conclusions selectively lifted from this plan without taking the time to understand it, or the needs of the local users or to see the gaps in the report. HOOT has conducted a survey of tennis users on these courts and nowhere did we find any support from users for 2 floodlit courts in preference to the 4 existing courts. What users want is the reinstatement of the previous policy of 25 years standing of the nets being left in situ all year round.

At a face to face meeting these issues were put to TDC's Leader Councillor Ezekiel by HOOT representatives. Cllr. Ezekiel frankly admitted this was a proposal driven much more by cash requirements than by any clear vision of sports provision or how it could be improved 

On the 2nd of September Hoot held another tennis coaching and fun day at the Tennis Courts attended by a large number of children, parents, supporters and Dr Ladyman MP. It is quite clear that far from reducing the demand for these facilities the use is increasing.

However despite all of the facts of this case detailed here TDC have not withdrawn the proposal that they rushed through in such a dubious manner back in February. They have merely promised to hold a public consultation on this matter. HOOT will contribute to this, whether TDC will listen is another thing.

To be continued...........................................

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