FEARS were raised that a ‘pay-to-play’ scheme at the Royal Borough’s park tennis courts could “alienate” the most vulnerable residents.

The council is to introduce a fee for people to access the tennis courts at Kidwells, Desborough, and Oaken Grove parks in order to keep up with maintenance costs.

Approximately 3,200 residents use the three courts for free, but the council is needing cash in to maintain and improve the facilities. One of the ways is to introduce a ‘pay-to-play’ scheme where residents pay a charge to unlock the gates to play tennis.

Councillors attending the virtual Maidenhead town forum heard the Royal Borough has secured nearly £94,000 from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), which governs the sport, to upkeep the three courts.

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Despite the funds being secured, it is still subject to a final agreement with the LTA.

Speaking at the meeting on Monday, July 11, Cllr Gurch Singh (Lib Dem: St Mary’s) said the charge “didn’t sit well” with him as it could “alienate” people who want to play tennis but cannot afford to do so due to the cost of living crisis.

He said: “They [vulnerable residents] can afford to play but they can’t afford to pay. Why are we putting these coded locks on the gates? Because my concern is we will end up excluding some of the residents.”

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con: Cox Green), lead member for sport and leisure, said it was “disappointing” Cllr Singh focused on the negative but said it is a plan to improve the park tennis courts and to raise funds to re-open the café at Kidwells Park.

Andrew Durrant, executive director for place services at the council, added it also creates a “flexible offering” to other groups, such as women and girls or disabled people, who can book a slot and play tennis.

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He said: “Like everything, you need a level of investment, whether that’s from participants, groups, or clubs using the facilities, to enable them to be maintained over time.

“If we allowed all of our facilities to be free of use entirely, we would have an absolute hole to fill every single time they fall into disrepair.”

Cllr Singh interrupted, saying he had to go, and his question was not being answered. The chair of the meeting, Cllr David Coppinger (Con: Bray) asked the clerk to take Cllr Singh out of the meeting.

Meanwhile, Independent Cllrs Geoff Hill and Helen Taylor (Oldfield) suggested the council should consider different pricing arrangements for those who wish to play but can’t afford to pay so that no one is locked out.