CALLS have been made to open Worcester’s £400,000 tennis courts at Cripplegate Park free of charge at weekends in a bid to inspire the next generation of tennis stars.
Labour’s Coun Richard Udall made the plea after finding the courts locked less than 48 hours after British sensation Emma Raducanu made history as the first qualifier to win the US Open in New York on Saturday (September 11) evening.
According to Coun Udall, the courts are often empty and have just a three to five per cent occupancy rate. The Lawn Tennis Association claimed there would be sufficient demand for constant use in Worcester, a claim echoed by the self-appointed ‘Voice of St John’s’.
“The cost to use the courts is too high, £7 an hour is beyond the reach for many people, also it’s very complicated to book, you have to book online and in advance, you can’t just turn up and play,” he said.
“For years many people have seen tennis as an elitist sport, such charges and restrictions re-enforce that prejudice, we need to break down the barriers and allow people to play for free.”
Coun Udall played down the prospect of a free for all and suggested the courts open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 8pm on a first come, first served basis.
“I still see a need for weekday bookings and organised coaching and I welcome that, but first we have to get people to play,” he said.
“Opening the courts for free at weekends would enable it to happen, it would allow for people to just turn up and have a go, to enjoy the game and have fun.
“I’m seriously concerned a £400,000 investment in public tennis has been wasted, we have great facilities, there is no need to ration them.
“The council should consider it a long-term investment in the future of tennis, keeping them locked up when people want to play is simply a bad public policy,” Coun Udall added.
In response, Freedom Leisure, Worcester City Council and the Lawn Tennis Association said: “More than 11,000 people have played tennis at Worcester’s Cripplegate Park or Gheluvelt Park since courts re-opened at the end of March 2021.
“We offer 30 hours of free tennis every week, including sessions at weekends. These can be booked online at https://clubspark.lta.org.uk/CripplegatePark/FreeTennis
“There are also regular free taster sessions for families, children and adults at both parks.
“An annual pass to the Cripplegate tennis courts costs £65 per household – allowing a whole family to play tennis for just £1.25 a week. Concessions are also available.
“Low cost payments will ensure the economic viability and long term sustainability of these tennis courts – so that Worcester residents can enjoy playing on great quality park tennis courts for the next 25 years and beyond.”