Until April 2018, a site between St Andrews Lane and Portdown Road in North London was in use as a tennis club site occupied by Templars Lawn Tennis Club. The site contained 5 floodlit tennis courts and a small clubhouse, all in a state of disrepair.
The club operated under a strict members-only model whereby use of the courts was restricted exclusively to members, with the exception of 3 annual guest passes per member and very occasional open days. Prospective members were required to have a minimum playing standard and were assessed on application.
The site was owned by the Club’s Members Association Company via a subsidiary company which members became eligible to take an equal share of upon their third year of membership. A decision was taken by the 51 members of the Member Association to dispose of the land in April 2018.
Following the club’s decision to dispose of the land, the new landowners submitted a planning application for its development which would consolidate and enhance the site’s sport facilities and increase its accessibility by the community, whilst developing part of the site for houses.
Under the original proposals, two of the existing tennis courts would be retained and completely resurfaced, a third court would be retained and updated to a MUGA to allow for other sporting uses alongside tennis, the clubhouse would undergo a full refurbishment and onsite energy generation would be installed as a means of reducing running costs. The refurbished facilities, which would be leased to a suitable operator, would benefit from an initial 24-month rent free period. A further financial contribution to the Council of £75,000 for the improvement of local tennis provision was agreed. The eastern part of the site would be developed with eight 4-bedroom houses.
The initial planning application was recommended for approval by Officers but planning permission was refused by the Committee in November 2018. An appeal was submitted and initially dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate.
Following a judicial review, the initial appeal decision was quashed, and SLC was commissioned to develop a report on behalf of the applicant to support a new appeal which examined the effect of the development of the site from a community sport and leisure perspective.
SLC reviewed the initial planning decision and identified a number of key issues and planning policies which needed to be addressed by the applicant. In order to demonstrate that the application satisfied the necessary policy tests, SLC’s report sought to address the following questions:
- Is there a need for the site in its former use as a 5-court tennis facility? Does demand exist for the site in this use which cannot be met by existing alternative supply in the area? Could this be a viable use for the site?
- Is there an alternative sport and recreation use for the site which would be suitable and for which this is demand locally?
- Is the proposed use a viable use for the site? Will the proposed use deliver benefits which clearly outweigh the loss of the former use?
The report demonstrated that demand for tennis both nationally and regionally is in decline, a position which is reflected by the decline in membership experienced by the former Templars Tennis Club. Despite the Committee’s assertion that there was a “local deficiency” of tennis provision, a surplus of club and casual provision was identified in the local area, even if the proposed loss of two courts was taken into consideration.
The former use of the site as a 5-court tennis facility was shown to be unsustainable, whilst the 3-court facility proposed for the site would be sustainable, supported by the benefits of the applicant’s investment in the redevelopment of the site and support for the operator through the provision of a rent-free period.
The proposals would deliver a number of sports related benefits including the enhancement of 3 courts at the site and of other Council tennis facilities and a more accessible model which would deliver to significantly more participants than the former club and increase the range of activities that can take place on site.
The appeal was dismissed but only on design grounds with the evidence presented by SLC on the substantive grounds of the loss of community facilities accepted as demonstrating that the proposal was in accordance with the relevant policies and National Planning Policy Framework.
A second planning application was submitted in parallel to the appeal with adjustments made to address the planning committee’s concern. This application was also supported by a version of the report set out above. This planning application was approved by the Planning Committee on 10th June 2021.
SLC’s comprehensive evidence was pivotal in securing a positive planning outcome to allow the former Templars Tennis Club in Golders Green to be developed with eight houses and a new consolidated community multi-sports facility. I would not hesitate to use them again or recommend their services.
Luke Raistrick, Centro Planning Consultancy
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