A keen tennis player has set up a campaign to fight the plans which he says would be a ‘devastating blow’ to the sport in Wirral.
Wirral Council needs to save £20million to escape its budget black hole, with two damning government reports published last November saying the authority needs to spend less on leisure services.
The cuts plan would see 11 libraries, the Woodchurch Leisure Center and two public golf courses closed.
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A proposal to close the indoor courts at the Wirral Tennis Center for a year, before reopening just three of the current six courts once the upgrade is complete, is also part of the plans.
None of the budget plans are set in stone yet, as public consultation is ongoing and councilors have the option to reject or modify any proposal.
But the council must agree a balanced budget that saves £20million at a full council meeting on February 28, with decisions on specific plans to be made by the end of May or June.
Richard Wilberforce, 70, from Wallasey, who is organizing a petition against the council’s plans, said the tennis courts were ‘unique’ in the borough with no other indoor courts available and players were ‘angry and bewildered’ by the proposal.
Council documents say the temporary closure would allow for an upgrade of the center and an independent consultant said the current facilities at the site do not complement local needs and demographics.
The three planned tennis courts will be replaced by an “extended” offer of soft play and gymnastics.
In addition to this, a second 3G astroturf football pitch would be built off site as part of a funding partnership between the Football Foundation and the council.
The Wirral Council estimate the redesigned centre, which involves the loss of three tennis courts, would save an estimated £114,000 a year.
Commenting on the plans, Mr Wilberforce said: “It would be a devastating blow to local tennis players as Bidston is the only facility in Wirral where indoor tennis can be played.
“There is nowhere else for tennis players to exercise in bad weather.
“Bidston’s indoor courts are well used and much appreciated. As well as improving the health, fitness and well-being of the local population, it is a first-class venue that has hosted national and international tennis tournaments, bringing status and income to the Wirral.
Mr Wilberforce added that despite the support of the Lawn Tennis Association, the national governing body, Wirral Council had “failed” to make the courts a financial success, which he believed was not inevitable.
He continued: “The success of other indoor tennis facilities in the UK shows that there are alternative business models that could turn the tide.
“It is appreciated that the council needs to save money on leisure facilities, but Bidston need not be a financial burden.”
On the council’s budget consultation website, the authority reminded residents it faced “significant financial challenges” and was following a “detailed process” to set a budget for the coming year.
The commentary added: ‘The council is legally bound to achieve a balanced budget or risk government intervention, and the cost-saving measures currently proposed are intended to put the authority on a stable long-term financial footing.’