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Initial response to the proposal to declare Montefiore tennis courts surplus - HOOT Campaign Team

Preamble:

Thanet District Council (TDC) have chosen to identify the Montefiore Avenue Tennis courts as a redundant site and suitable for disposal. A local pressure group (HOOT hands off our tennis courts) is in existence to maintain this site as a viable venue for tennis. It is a popular facility, open all year round. The rationale for this is the result of a flawed audit commissioned by TDC to comply with Planning Policy Guideline 17 (PPG17) which claims there are too many tennis courts in the area. This document is a response to that proposal using TDC published sources and our own survey.

Summary of findings:

Firstly, this is a well used and popular sports facility and above all it is clearly not surplus due to the large number of people who use it. It also provides a level of revenue that probably exceeds all the other municipal courts added together. It is in good condition with two courts recently re-surfaced and one new net this summer.

Secondly, the TDC audit is dubious in its methodology; it contradicts itself by implying a higher level of participation for tennis in the area and then adopts a lower level of provision than the Lawn Tennis Association standard without any explanation. The source data for the survey is inaccurate, over a third of the tennis courts in the survey are not tennis courts any more, either through disrepair or being used for other purposes. Even using the lower level of provision adopted by this audit the total number of community tennis courts is only half of what the TDC audit says it should be. In short there is an under provision of tennis courts not an over provision.

The third point is that this site fulfils virtually every requirement of PPG 17 in terms of access by public transport, value to the local community. It complies with the recommendations in TDC’s own audit as well.

Use of the courts by the public:

The tennis courts are a very popular sports facility. Takings from the summer opening generally are around £2000 which indicates that there are about 1500 visits during the period when charging is in operation May-Sept 10am-6pm (adults pay £2 children £1) at other times entry is free. Given this level of usage it is difficult to argue they are surplus to requirements and should be disposed of.      

Background to TDC’s Audit of sports facilities:

PPG 17 published by central government lays down the general requirements for sports and amenity provision and requires councils to examine in a systematic way how they go about identifying and meeting the needs of the electorate they serve.

In July 2006 TDC commissioned an audit of sport and leisure provision in Thanet at an approximate cost of £50,000 from Strategic Leisure Ltd. One of the conclusions this audit published in the Executive Summary was that there were too many normal tennis courts in Thanet and a shortage of floodlit courts. TDC officers and members have quoted this conclusion at every opportunity and HOOT decided to examine the original report and its methodology. It was decided to conduct our own survey to see if this audit was an accurate representation of what actually exists on the ground. This survey was conducted in late summer 2008.

 A Review of the Audit:

The audit purports to do 2 things as far as tennis is concerned. Firstly it tries to quantify demand for tennis and secondly it identifies what actually exists. Unfortunately it contains fundamental errors in its source data, as well as contradictions and errors in how it handles the demand for tennis that make its conclusions very suspect.

Demand:

There is a well established norm produced by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) of 2% of the population participating in tennis with a provision level of 1 outdoor court per 45 players and one floodlit court per 65. The audit treats floodlit and non-floodlit courts differently. This is somewhat misleading as clearly a floodlit court will be used in the daytime hence the important statistic is the aggregate total of both types. Tennis is in the top 10 sports in terms of participants.

The audit introduces an alternative to the LTA provision figure of 1.4% based on a notional “propensity to participate”. In short it assumes people in Thanet are less likely to play sport because this area is the most deprived of the 12 Kent authorities. This appears not to be a concept used when assessing need for other sporting facilities. However in paragraph 3.180 it goes on to suggest that the “propensity to participate is higher in Thanet” than the LTA norm of 2%, yet it goes on to assess demand using the lower figure of 1.4% despite the statement to the contrary. It makes no explanation as to why this lower figure has been adopted. Similarly table 3.46 is titled to show the LTA standard but actually shows the lower TDC one!

In short the demand calculations are contradictory and make assumptions that are not justified or explained in the text. It does however in its summary (para 3.192) agree that based on the LTA standard used by other authorities that there is a shortage of courts. If as it says in 3.180 the participation levels in Thanet are higher then this alters the figures again upwards from the LTA standard. Using the lower figure of 1.4% (the TDC standard) it indicates a total provision level of 66 courts, of which 27 ideally should be floodlit. The LTA standard suggests a total provision of 94 of which 38 should be floodlit. More than that if one is to take account of the higher usage in Thanet as stated in the report. The report indicates that there are 49 community use tennis courts of which 14 are floodlit club courts, all of the non-floodlit courts are council owned.

Provision:

HOOT conducted a survey in late summer 2008 to see what actually exists on the ground. This showed the data reproduced in the audit to be hopelessly inaccurate. Full details of the survey can be found in the appendix at the end of this document, but many courts listed in the survey are just not there any more. HOOT decided not to apply an exacting standard for this survey the only requirement being a net, a fence and a tennis court which means many barely playable courts are included in the total. Using this standard we found only 23 municipal courts in existence across the area, this compares with 35 quoted in the audit (a third less). Clearly with the other errors in this audit the conclusions of an over provision are totally without substance as far as tennis is concerned. As stated above Thanet should have 66 courts but has actually 37 community courts a shortfall of nearly 50%. As an observation, if TDC has paid a large sum of money for this audit and these glaring errors exist for tennis, what other errors have gone undetected for other sports.

Other factors relating to sports provision discussed in the Audit:

The audit discusses the basic demographics and statistics relating to the population. The area has slightly above average numbers of over 65’s and under 15’s. Car ownership is lower than the national average.

One of the most telling paragraphs in the report is 2.14 it says “ The demographic characteristics (of Thanet) highlight the need for affordable local facilities……..The level of mobility is low and therefore facilities are required to be placed locally for ease of access. Good public transport links to facilities are required…..”

PPG 17, makes a number of policy guidelines which councils should follow and which apply in this case.

The first is accessibility by foot, public transport and cycle. It is quite clear that this site fits this requirement as it is close to a main bus route, public footpath, cycle track and a railway station is nearby. This is particularly appropriate given the lower than average levels of car ownership in the area as emphasised in the report.

It also suggests that sports facilities should enhance green space. This site is in a “green wedge” as defined in the local plan. 

Section 10 clearly states that existing sports facilities should not be built on unless they are surplus.

Section 11 urges the retention of sports facilities that are of particular value to the local community. In this case the widespread support for HOOTs campaign must be recognised.

Section 13 indicates where it is contemplated to move facilities then the replacements should be equivalent in size, usefulness, attractiveness and quality.

Section 14 confirms that parks and sports facilities are not to be considered as previously developed land.

Section 19 requires local authorities to protect local amenity when authorising floodlighting.

Appendix:

Survey of available tennis courts - total 23 (11 locations)

Listed below are the tennis courts surveyed late summer 2008. The total number of courts available was found to be 23 compared to the figure of 35 quoted in TDC’s Audit. The figure of 23 includes 2 courts at Birchington which were found to be locked with no staff available. Hence a question mark hangs over their availability. Clearly the Montefiore Avenue courts generate revenue and have had considerable council investment over the last few years.

1. Memorial Recreation Ground, Broadstairs:

Courts Existing                     4

Fencing                                  Poor and Not complete

Surface                                  Very poor, normally would be regarded as unplayable

Access                                    Free

Remarks                    

2. Dane Park, Margate:

 No Longer there.

3. Hartsdown Park, Margate:

No nets derelict site

4. St Mildreds, Westgate:

Courts Existing                     4

Fencing                                  Good

Surface                                  Good well maintained

Access                                    Free Access no staff

Remarks

5. Hodges Games Centre:

Courts Existing                     3

Fencing                                  Good

Surface                                  Poor to good

Access                                    Payment

Remarks                                 Seasonal takings below £1000

6. Spencer Square, Ramsgate:

Courts Existing                     3

Fencing                                  Good to very good

Surface                                  Good

Access                                    Free

Remarks                                 Proximity to the local language schools means that these courts are very heavily used by overseas students. PPG 17 suggests that additional facilities should be provided for tourists and perhaps these courts should not count as local provision.

7. Montefiore Avenue, Ramsgate:

Courts Existing                     4

Fencing                                  Good to very good

Surface                                  2 courts recently resurfaced Very good, 2 courts Good 

Access                                    Payment in summer to bowling club, takings around £2000 per season. Free out of season and in evenings.

Remarks                                 Disabled access, 1 new net 2 months ago

8. Westbrook:

Courts Existing                                 2

Fencing                                              Good

Surface                                              Good but poor in places

Access                                                Free

Remarks

9. Warre Recreation Ground, Ramsgate:

Not there any more, residual fencing very bad

10. St. Nicholas at Wade:

Courts Existing                                 1

Fencing                                              Good 

Surface                                              Poor

Access                                                Free

Remarks

11. Birchington Beach Avenue:

Courts Existing                                 2

Fencing                                              Good

Surface                                              Good

Access                                                At time of survey locked up, so some doubt about public access

Remarks                                             Counted in survey but obviously questions about access.