Belfast Telegraph

Children denied chance to play by all-weather dome planning delay

By Sarah Rainey

A long-running delay in a planning application over an inflatable dome is threatening the future of a Belfast tennis club.

Hundreds of young tennis players have been left out in the cold after their courts were uncovered during the winter because of the planning dispute with Belfast City Council.

Members of Windsor Tennis Club in south Belfast are used to playing under the dome during the coldest months of the year.

But this year a three-month delay by planning officers left them without tennis facilities during the big freeze.

More than 200 junior members, most of them schoolchildren, had their after-school tennis lessons cancelled when the dome — which has been in place since 2008 — was kept down.

With bad weather forecast across Northern Ireland for the next few months, amateur players have been forced to go elsewhere and the tennis club is struggling to retain members.

Club manager Wendy Phillips said the dome was “vitally important” to the children, who were “very disappointed” with the delay in granting it permission to go up again.

“We’ve been here for over 100 years and we’re long established in the community,” she said. “People from across the area use us as a sports facility, whether it’s schoolchildren or adults.

“The weather this year has been disastrous and not having the dome meant that we weren’t able to use the courts, which were wet and covered in snow and ice. It’s very disappointing for us because it’s affecting hundreds of families who have been coming here for years.”

The 30-foot dome covers two tennis courts at the far end of the club’s property from October to March. First erected in 2008, its planning permission was due for renewal after two years, and staff had expected the procedure to be straightforward.

But it took planning officers 11 weeks to visit the site after the application was lodged in late September, a delay that the club’s board said put DoE’s Planning Service in “serious breach of their own service guidelines”.

Now, further delays are feared after several residents in Ceara Court, a residential block opposite the tennis club, have objected to the dome.

Young players at Windsor are devastated that the dispute has left them without tennis facilities for the foreseeable future.

Tess McAleavey (5), from the Over The Rainbow playgroup in south Belfast, said: “We weren’t able to play in the winter and it made me sad. I had to play indoor football instead, which was fun, but tennis is my favourite sport.”

Ruadhan McBride-Smyth (6) said it was “strange” not to be able to play tennis at the club: “It is sad because I love tennis.”

The matter is due to go before Belfast City Council’s town planning committee next Thursday, where councillors will either back or object to the plans for the club’s dome, before the matter goes back to planners for a final decision.

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