Friends of Hilly Fields have been angered by a Lewisham council proposal to upgrade the tennis courts in the park with the help of the Lawn Tennis Association. They fear the courts, currently free to use, will become unaffordable for many.
The Friends, who have been campaigning for improvements to the tennis courts for several years, say they only heard about the proposal on social media. They have now launched a survey of park users and tennis players and want the council to look at all options.
Under the council proposal, the LTA would fund the upgrade and manage the courts which would have to be paid for and become bookable. The Friends of Hilly Fields are concerned the upgrade will mean the courts being handed over to the LTA, resulting in the community losing a much used asset.
People in the local community are worried that the courts will become unaffordable and argue the council left too little time for discussion of the proposal.
Lewisham council says the courts need to be upgraded and that without improvements they would have to be closed on health and safety grounds within the next few years.
Councillors point out that the LTA funded the upgrade of the courts in Ladywell Fields which have been transformed through this investment programme and have proved popular with the local community.
The council has insisted that the courts will remain a community asset under their control. “They are not being handed over to the LTA,” say local councillors.
The courts will operate under the same Ladywell Fields style scheme which has proved popular with users. There you pay an annual fee of about £35 and can then book courts for free each week.
Councillors also say the council has recently used £10k of ring-fenced funds to refresh the Ladywell courts.
But local people commenting on the Friends website say the courts should remain for free so as many people as possible can continue to enjoy the facility. “Hilly Fields courts should remain free and no booking required as this makes them more accessible to everyone,” says one comment.
But others say the condition of the courts is terrible and that sometimes they are abused by people who stay on them far too long. At Ladywell Fields you book a one hour slot. There’s also a big variety of coaching sessions for all ages and skill levels.
Friends of Hilly Fields are keen to hear what you think about the proposal. They have set up a survey and questionnaire link on their website https://forms.gle/hywKtpGncnbj3gRu8 The council proposal involves two of the three courts. The basketball court and the third tennis court are not part of the scheme.
Local councillors say they understand people’s concerns. But they stress that over the last 12 years the council has been forced to make significant cuts due to central government budget cuts. There are likely to be more cuts in the wake of the government’s mini-budget debacle.
Councillors say the squeeze means the council has to work with partners to fund community projects and keep facilities such as tennis courts open and in a good condition.