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Squash players try to safeguard courts

PUBLISHED: 18:02 24 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:27 03 July 2010

SQUASH players in Lowestoft enraged by council plans to close the town's only remaining public courts pledged to put their anger to one side, after hope of keeping the facility open emerged.

SQUASH players in Lowestoft enraged by council plans to close the town's only remaining public courts pledged to put their anger to one side, after hope of keeping the facility open emerged.

Paul Martins rallied fellow squash players into action when details of a £6m redevelopment of Waterlane Leisure Centre were unveiled this month, including replacing the two courts with a crèche and soft play area.

More than 100 people have signed a petition and many attended a meeting with Waveney District Council representatives on Friday.

Simon Bellamy, leisure operations manager at Waveney District Council, told players the plans were “not necessarily set in stone” but were part of an initial bid for a £1m government grant that had to be submitted at short notice, the details of which could later be amended. He said a public consultation would allow everyone to have their say before plans were finalised.

David Gallagher, the council's head of services, said the council had supported squash but admitted it was eight years since money had been spent on development of the sport at the centre and court maintenance work.

“We will try to build squash into our plans as we move forward,” he said. “The general service hasn't been good enough and we need to address that.”

Both sides agreed to appoint representatives to a working party to look at safeguarding the future of the sport in the town, which has a population of 70,000.

Mr Martins said he felt more optimistic. “I think it's looking positive,” he said. “The outlook is less bleak than was first thought.

“It's only because us players have gone out on a limb and pushed for this that it has not been lost.”

He said the sport was thriving in the area, with 16 players starting during the past week, and there was a "distinct possibility" that a club would be formed, which would help strengthen the case for keeping the courts open, and enable players to apply for outside funding.

Council figures which show that usage is at 30pc are disputed by Mr Martins, who believes that figure is closer to 50pc. He said that maximising daytime usage and profits would be just as difficult for a crèche and play area, adding: “They talk about the cost of it all - the cost and payback of squash courts as they are would be minimal, and the cost and payback of a creche and soft play area are tremendous.”

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