‘No pitch priority for tennis over football’

Banbridge Leisure Centre.
Banbridge Leisure Centre.

Tennis will not take priority at Banbridge Leisure Centre’s new-look all-weather pitch, despite the planned transformation into three courts.

So says Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, insisting the new pitch will be a multi-use facility - marked for tennis, football and hockey - “with no preference given to one sport over another”.

Last week the Leader reported confirmation from DUP councillor, Alderman Junior McCrum, that Banbridge’s tennis courts would be moved from their present location beside the King George V Bowling Pavilion to Banbridge Leisure Centre and would incorporate three courts approved to LTA standard.

Mr McCrum said at the time: “The new sport introduced to the Banbridge Leisure Centre and the upgraded venue will provide an excellent base for both public tennis and Banbridge Tennis Club.”

News of the move kicked off concerns among local footballers, who expected to be left on the bench.

“We don’t have the numbers for a move to the bigger pitches at Havelock or Cheney,” said one, whose block booking for the all-weather pitch has stood for almost a decade.

“If they want better tennis courts I don’t understand why they don’t just upgrade the courts they have.”

The local authority, however, said this week: “All football bookings will be accommodated as the council has sufficient capacity to meet the needs of all users.”

Responding to what he called last week’s “factually inaccurate” Leader article, Councillor Mark Baxter, Chair of the Council’s Leisure and Community Services Committee, said: “The article inferred that the pitch, which is currently used for casual football and hockey training, would only be used for tennis following the completion of works.

“The planned works, which will include upgrading the playing surface and adding improved floodlighting, along with a pavilion, will provide a much enhanced, multi-use facility that can accommodate the playing of tennis for new users as well as soccer and hockey for existing users.

“The addition of International Tennis Federation approved courts will open up opportunities for a new sport to be played on the pitch and maximise the use of the facility - therefore generating additional income and unburdening local ratepayers.

“Moreover, members of Banbridge Tennis Club will have access to much improved courts, enabling them to compete at a higher level and improve opportunities for their growing number of younger talented players.

“The planned works at Banbridge Leisure Centre is a prime example of the Council’s ongoing commitment to strategically review its extensive portfolio of sports and leisure facilities to ensure that they are not only fit for purpose but are also more financially sustainable and, most importantly, provide more people with the opportunity to play sport.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Leader stands by last week’s report, which stated that the existing football/hockey pitch would be turned into tennis courts, and we do not accept Councillor Baxter’s claims of the story being inaccurate.

The Leader had been approached by local footballers concerned at the plans and we reflected those concerns.

We will continue to report any concerns of these users who will welcome the council’s move to clarify the situation, following the Leader story.