Regent’s Park saga comes to an end as sports club is demolished

WORK has begun to return the site of the former golf and tennis school in Regent’s Park to parkland, signalling an end to the controversial saga that has lasted more than three years.

Having been shut by The Royal Parks in March 2007, the school had remained derelict after plans to build a five-a-side football centre fell through.

But planning permission has finally been awarded by Westminster Council to remove the 100-year-old tennis and golf school and return the site to parkland.

The original decision to shut the school three years ago unleashed an unprecedented number of protests with The Royal Parks’ proposals to build 10 five-a-side football pitches being met with 4,000 letters of opposition – the highest number of objections Westminster council has ever received to a planning application.

Among those who objected were former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the then leader of Westminster Council Sir Simon Milton, Lord Goldsmith and BBC broadcaster Sue MacGregor.

In the face of such protests, 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 fiasco was the suicide of tennis coach Yuri Ouvarov, 53, who hanged 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.

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Tennis club user and leading barrister Geoffrey Robertson said: “This is an ironic end to a saga that demonstrates the incompetence, stupidity and lack of public spirit, both of The Royal Parks and the local council.

“There should, in this new wood, be a memorial to Yuri, the tennis coach who inspired so many local children and who was driven to despair and to suicide by the greed and duplicity and secret machinations that were behind the destruction of an important local facility for tennis and golf.

“At least the squirrels will obtain some enjoyment from the debacle.”

The Royal Parks defended their decision claiming the school was in a state of disrepair and not fit for purpose.

They say returning the site to parkland has been their long-standing aim and will extend the natural qualities and character of the adjacent area.

The parkland site, due to be completed early next year, will have natural grassland and wild flowers.The southern third of the site will be enclosed and accessible to school and educational groups, including bird walks and tours.

A Royal Parks spokeswoman said: “By returning this area to parkland the views will be improved, the biodiversity of the site will be enriched and a wider range of people will be able to enjoy using the space.

“There are 12 tennis courts available in the Will to Win Tennis Centre next to Queen Mary’s Garden and The Hub community sports pavilion provides a range of other activities.”