Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Permitting concerts on Derry tennis courts would be ‘absolute travesty’, says local coach

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Peter Fryer believes that if a three-day music event is given the go-ahead, it will be the “nail in the coffin” for St Columb’s Park tennis courts.

A proposal to hold concerts on the courts this summer has again raised questions about the lack of event spaces in the city and the decision to limit events at Ebrington Square to five per year.

Proposed concerts at tennis courts in St Columb’s Park have already prompted safety concerns, as there are ongoing efforts to ensure the area is an alcohol-free zone.

Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed that it has received a request from an event promoter to use the tennis courts in St Columb’s Park for a “large-scale music event”.

The proposed dates of the event are May 24-26 and the details of the concert line-up will be announced by the promoter if plans are approved.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Fryer, who said tennis courts have to be smooth, believes that setting up a stage and having more than 1,000 people in attendance will have a major impact on the surface.

Mr Fryer has played tennis his whole life and has been a coach for many years, involved with City of Derry Tennis Club for the past two decades.

He has played many matches on the St Columb’s Park tennis courts and won tournaments.

He said the setting is “fantastic” but that the courts have been neglected for some time.

The tennis courts in St Columb’s Park in Derry’s Waterside where a concert with an audience of up to 3,000 could be held (Pic: Martin McKeown)

He added: “This big concert is going to wreck the surface, I would imagine. It’s something I’d be concerned about at this stage, that the damage could be irreparable and the council might say: ‘The damage is too bad, we might close these courts down.’”

After tennis courts were closed at Brooke Park, it left no courts open to the public on the Cityside.

Only those at St Columb’s Park and the new Waterside Shared Village remain — and the EU-funded Shared Village doesn’t open until 4pm.

Mr Fryer added: “A city of our size, with more than 100,000 people, it’s such a shame that we have only a couple of facilities where the public can play tennis.

“It’s no wonder tennis is such a minority sport, because there are no opportunities to get your racket and play.”

Tennis benefited from a “bounce” following the Covid pandemic, as it is a naturally distanced sport, and it is still “riding the crest of that wave in the city with a lot of people wanting to play”.

The club is going from “strength to strength” but still has no one place it calls home.

Mr Fryer is supportive of concerts in the city but is “curious” as to why the tennis courts were chosen as a location.

“Look at Belfast — it holds gigs in Ormeau Park but not in the tennis courts,” he said.

“It has Custom House Square and St George’s Market.

“For me, Ebrington Square is a great venue, but it’s just a shame that, with the rules, they can’t accommodate more than five events per year.”

The running track at St Columb’s Park was used previously, with the track “wrecked and ruined”, and Mr Fryer raised that as an example of what could happen at the tennis courts.

He added: “I don’t know what the solution is, but we have been chronically underfunded on so many levels — our roads, our sporting facilities, our music and cultural events over recent decades. And it is such a shame that it has to be sport or music.

“We have to seek some sort of middle ground, some solution that will suit everyone.

“If the surface is damaged, will it be repaired? Probably not. It will be lying there, then those six tennis courts will be turned into something else.

“They have been at the heart of the park for many years. It would be an absolute travesty if the courts were ruined and wrecked and not playable.

“You have ten courts in the whole city, and that would be losing 60% of the playing space you have.

“Coming into the summer months, when tennis is going to be [popular] and children will be looking to play… If that court is wrecked, what can you do?

“If these concerts go ahead, it could be the final nail in the coffin for those courts.”

At last Wednesday’s Environment and Regeneration Committee, members passed a proposal that the event will only be approved following meaningful engagement with stakeholders and tenants within the St Columb’s Park area, including St Columb’s Park House.

The Executive Office, which owns Ebrington Square, and the council have been contacted for comment.

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