Mr J Dewis will present a petition on behalf of 158 signatories regarding the proposed closure of St Ives Squash Courts. The petition statement is as follows:-
“It has recently been advised that Huntingdon District Council has decided to close all the squash courts at the One Leisure St. Ives Outdoor Centre. This would have a devastating effect on the participation levels in the St. Ives area.
This was advised to the St. Ivo Racquets Club (’the club’), the squash and racket ball club based in St. Ives, which operates from the courts. The club aims to encourage affordable community participation in squash and racket ball sports, for social through to county-standard players and from junior to senior levels. It is not-for-profit, run by volunteers.
The club has been advised in a letter from One Leisure dated Friday 22 March 2019, that is after the decision had already been made by the Council. The club has still to view any public records related to this decision. The club is extremely concerned about the lack of a public consultation process prior to this decision being made. Neither the club, representing the largest single group of players, nor individual users have been afforded an opportunity to present the case to continue supporting squash and racket ball facilities in St. Ives.
St. Ives has a long and proud history of squash and racket ball, the St. Ivo Racquets Club formed in 1975. The club has a very low membership fees to encourage participation from the whole community, activities include weekly club nights open to all, where coaching is provided. The club runs two county standard teams, the first team won the Cambridgeshire 2nd division title in March 2019. The courts in St. Ives are some of the last publicly accessible courts in the area. Children have immediate access to affordable facilities for a rewarding sport, which can prepare them both physically and mentally for the future. The sport is universally accepted as a fantastic fitness work out, and its appeal stretches across the ages from the youngest just old enough to hold a racket to those in their seventies. However, courts are needed in St. Ives to provide good local community access.
A functional training facility is proposed in place of the four squash courts. Neither a sporting nor business case for this change of use has been made public yet. There is already a One Leisure gym in St. Ives, the result of a recent multi-million-pound investment.
The last public courts in the area would be two courts at Huntingdon. The additional time and distance for St. Ives based players to travel would inevitably lead to a further decline in participation when the community should expect the opposite for the good of the health and well-being of our community. If the proposed closure goes ahead, St. Ives would have been reduced from eight to no courts in a relatively short time, and Huntingdon / St. Ives combined reduced from ten courts to two.
Community squash can be run successfully from a commercial viewpoint. The St. Neots One Leisure squash courts are well utilised, are in good condition, adequately heated and have long opening hours. It would be ideal if a similar outcome could be achieved for St. Ives. The squash courts at St. Ives can be restored to a valuable community asset.”
The Panel gave consideration to the terms of a petition relating to the proposed closure of the squash courts at the One Leisure St Ives Outdoor Centre. The Council had referred the petition to the Panel at its meeting on 15th May 2019. The organiser of the petition, Mr J Dewis, addressed Members on it. He referred to the importance of the courts to the local community and the wider area, the level of participation rates in squash nationally compared with other sports and the likelihood that ongoing new residential development would increase demand for squash. In his view the decline in usage of the St Ives courts is partly the result of past faults with the heating and drains. He also commented that other gym facilities were available and that the Club had not been consulted before the decision had been taken to close the courts. He concluded by putting forward suggestions to promote squash and expressing a wish to work with One Leisure St Ives to attract new users to the facility.
During questions put by Members to Mr Dewis, it was established that the club held weekly club nights and organised a number of large events each year. The club had 30 members and other casual users also used the courts. The difference between squash courts usage in St Neots and St Ives was then discussed. Finally, Mr Dewis confirmed the dates on which he received communications on the Council’s intention to repurpose the courts and that he did not consider he had been given an opportunity to influence the decision.
Councillor J D Ablewhite addressed the Panel on the petition. He informed the Committee that the Council previously had invested in leisure and that while it should be run as a business, it was in fact a service. One of the reasons for investing in the indoor centre in St Ives was to enable the Council then to invest in the outdoor centre. The outdoor centre could benefit from improvements, had limited opening hours and did not receive adequate marketing. There were opportunities to install other fitness facilities at the indoor centre and to provide the existing facilities at the outdoor centre such as the bar and catering through other models, for example, as a franchise. Councillor Ablewhite concluded by expressing the view that more time should be taken to consider the Council’s options to promote the well-being of the community.
The Chairman thanked Mr Dewis and Councillor Ablewhite for their contributions and assured them that their views would be taken into consideration during their deliberations at Minute No 12 post.