Council to Block Tennis Dome Plan

Tim Henman and Clare Balding urge change of heart for Dukes Meadows scheme

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Tennis star Tim Henman has called on Hounslow Council planning officials to have a change of heart over their decision to recommend planning permission be refused for an all-weather tennis dome at a Chiswick tennis centre. The Dukes Meadows Tennis and Golf Centre claims it faces an " uncertain future " over the planning row and may have to close.

The Wimbledon star has the support of Chiswick-based BBC sports presenters Clare Balding, and Gabby Logan who say closure would be disastrous for the sport. The Centre claims it coaches almost 1,000 schoolchildren weekly, who might not otherwise gain access to tennis courts because they cannot afford to pay private club fees. The Park Club in Acton recently secured permission for a similar facility.

The row centres over the erection of a tennis dome or ' bubble' which covers five of the Centre's tennis courts from October to April so that play can continue in the winter months. However, the Council argues that the structure was erected without planning permission on Metropolitan Open Land. Dukes Meadows Golf and Tennis Centre argues that this is a technicality and is seeking retrospective planning permission. It argues that the Centre may have to close if it is not financially viable .

The issue is due to be discussed by councillors at a planning committee meeting next Thursday ( 27th October) at which it is understood that Hounslow planning officials will recommend that permission be refused. A Council spokesman said the Centre had flouted basic planning regulations.

Henman said losing the centre, the brainchild of French Connection fashion brand owner Stephen Marks, would be "devastating", adding: "It is such a great facility because making the game accessible is so important in this country, and this is pay and play.

"When you have someone like Stephen Marks, who has been such a fan and supporter of the game, investing a lot of his own money into it, to have the council take that away is absolute madness. Grass roots is so important for tennis."

Gabby Logan, who lives nearby, said: "When there is such an emphasis on government to get kids active and healthy, it seems nonsensical for the council not support a facility that does so much to introduce sport to children."

The centre is credited with kick-starting the tennis careers of Laura Robson and Anne Keothavong, while US Open boys champion Oliver Golding practises there. Mr Marks said: "If the dome cannot be used, from a financial point of view it puts the centre at risk." He said any one of the children who use the centre could be the "next Andy Murray".

Clare Balding, who lives in Chiswick has urged the Council to reconsider on the basis that the Centre is an asset to the community.

“I very much hope the council appreciates what a fantastic asset Dukes Meadows is for Hounslow, the wider community and the next generation of tennis players and golfers. Top level public sports facilities are so rare in London and it would be tragic to lose Dukes Meadows due to a minor planning issue.” she commented.

A statement from the Centre said that almost £2 million had been spent upgrading the facilities in the past two and a half years. Nine tennis courts had been restored and upgraded , including the addition of the tennis ' bubble' which covers five of the courts during the winter months. New shower rooms, changing rooms, a gymnasium, treatment rooms had been added. The Centre was one of just three establishments in London offering access to the public including an outreach programme for schools, encouraging underprivileged children to take up the sport.

"At a time of rising obesity and lack of physical activity amongst youngsters, Dukes Meadows fulfils a number of London Borough of Hounslow and Greater London Authority corporate aims for encouraging access to sport with children’s programmes even taking priority over adult bookings. This approach sees almost 1,000 children a week pass through the centre, the majority from the local area and many on an outreach programme aimed at encouraging underprivileged children into the sport , said a spokesman for the Centre.

Dukes Meadows Tennis Director, James Lenton says: "If the council close us down it would be a devastating blow to the hundreds of local children and adults who use the facility. Our indoor courts are almost completely full during 9 months of the year, which shows their popularity. Many of our players cannot afford to join other private exclusive indoor tennis clubs in the area.”

October 19, 2011