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Anger as Regent's Park pitches are axed

PUBLISHED: 10:53 05 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:14 07 September 2010

Sanchez Manning ONE of Britain's top human rights lawyers has called for a public inquiry into The Royal Parks closure of a historic golf and tennis school in Regent's Park. Geoffrey Robertson QC is calling for an investigation into the process which led

Sanchez Manning

ONE of Britain's top human rights lawyers has called for a public inquiry into The Royal Parks' closure of a historic golf and tennis school in Regent's Park.

Geoffrey Robertson QC is calling for an investigation into the process which led to the 100-year-old school being scrapped to make way for a five-a-side football centre.

It has emerged this week that although the football pitch plan has been dropped, The Royal Parks is intending to leave the land empty rather than re-instating the popular sports club.

Mr Robertson says the whole handling of the issue has been "utterly incompetent" and needs a thorough investigation.

"The public has been terrifically messed around by the stupid behaviour of The Royal Parks and heads should roll," said Mr Robertson, who lives in West Hampstead with his wife, writer Kathy Lette. "It now transpires that all the fuss was for nothing.

"They have destroyed an amenity for tennis and golf players with the promise of a fraudulent prospect of five-a-side pitches."

His calls have been backed by journalist Sir Simon Jenkins and the former manager of the school, Chris Meadows.

Sir Simon said that he was completely behind the campaign for a public inquiry. "It's an appallingly mismanaged affair and they should revert back to a tennis school immediately and just get out of this mess," he said.

Mr Meadows added: "If the people of this area were allowed to make their own decisions then this wouldn't have happened. Frank Dobson [MP] said he has received more letters for the school than he did about the Gulf War."

The decision by The Royal Parks to shut down the golf and tennis school in March 2007 unleashed a maelstrom of protests. Among the objectors were ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone, the then leader of Westminster Council, Sir Simon Milton, BBC broadcaster Sue MacGregor and Tony Blair's right-hand man Lord Goldsmith.

The Royal Parks' scheme to replace the school with 10 five-a-side football pitches was met with a staggering 4,000 letters of opposition - the highest number of objections ever received for a planning application.

In the face of this response, and citing the adverse environmental impact that could be caused by building the pitches, the council rejected the application in December 2007.

But the most tragic aspect of the ongoing debacle is that in the same month, tennis coach Yuri Ouvarov, 53, hung himself in Regent's Park.

His family linked his death directly to the closure of the golf and tennis school where he had worked since 1991. The Royal Parks has defended its actions by claiming the school had to be closed because it was in a state of disrepair and not fit for purpose.

But Mr Robertson and Mr Meadows claim this is an outright lie, and health and safety concerns were never raised at the time.

Mr Robertson said the facilities were perfect for play and told how he had often played with Yuri. He added Yuri's "ghost should haunt the policy makers" behind the decision.

A spokeswoman for The Royal Parks said: "The main reason we are returning it to park land is to open up the vistas and improve the landscape for visitors. But it's also because of the cost of the tender process. If you did do another tender it would have to be completely open so any suitable sport provider could win and there is no guarantee that it would be tennis and golf again.

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