Hitchin tennis club served up planning shock

Jim Lynham, Joan Newton, Brendon Lee, Kate Briggs, Peter Mee, Sheila Wadsworth, Cass Sherred, Derek

Jim Lynham, Joan Newton, Brendon Lee, Kate Briggs, Peter Mee, Sheila Wadsworth, Cass Sherred, Derek Salter and Harold Eva - Credit: Archant

The chairman of a tennis club has hit out at a council after discovering that the facility could be knocked down.

Elias Xenophontos, chairman of Hitchin Lawn Tennis Club, said he is “disgusted” with the way North Herts District Council (NHDC) has handled the consultation and plans surrounding the refurbishment of Bancroft Gardens in Hitchin, where the club is based.

The recreation ground has four tennis courts available free of charge, but NHDC wants to remove these and grass over the area.

Plans have also emerged to restore the River Hiz and to open up the play area in the gardens. But the consequence of that could be moving the tennis club’s three courts towards the upper bowls green and demolishing the current site.

The plan has space for only three courts in total – a reduction from the seven currently available – with no clear plan for how any public access to courts could be arranged.

Mr Xenophontos learnt of the proposals on Saturday when representatives from BDP, which has been appointed by NHDC as the architects for the scheme, were in Hitchin Market Place consulting with members of the public.

“It is disheartening for the tennis club to hear that NHDC now intends to demolish these facilities having invested in updating the facilities after assurances that NHDC would renew our lease,” said Mr Xenophontos, who has been chairman since 2011.

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“I’m afraid many of the officers behind this have proven to have little integrity. The club has been misled and taken on a wild goose chase.

“Despite asking for clarification from David Scholes, NHDC’s chief executive, in November about NHDC’s plans for the club, we have heard nothing until these plans were released on Saturday and we still don’t know any of the crucial details.

“I’ve now referred the matter to the local government ombudsman as it’s clear to me that something is badly wrong with NHDC’s practices.”

A masterplan for Bancroft Gardens was approved by the council a year ago, which includes altering pedestrian access, new seating, electricity supply in the bandstand, a play area for older children and a cafe.

Members of NHDC’s cabinet will consider the proposals for the refurbishment on January 28.

If given the go-ahead, BDP will submit a bid on behalf of NHDC for funding through the Lottery Fund’s Parks for People programme.

A council spokesman said: “The tennis club currently has use of three tennis courts and a tennis club house in Bancroft Gardens. The proposals being considered envisage retaining this level of provision and we are continuing our dialogue with the club about future lease arrangements.”