Church will make final ruling over park tennis courts
PUBLISHED: 07:06 17 October 2011
AN ANCIENT church document could hold the key to deciding whether tennis courts in Weston town centre will be ripped up to make way for car parking.
The Mercury reported last month how North Somerset Council has an eye on the sports area at the foot of Grove Park as it looks to extend the neighbouring car park.
The authority is currently reviewing its spending as it looks to save £47million over four years, and believes redeveloping the courts as parking could provide a vital new revenue stream.
If the scheme goes ahead, it could create up to 90 new parking spaces and bag an estimated £160,000 a year for council coffers.
However, it has now emerged that the idea could be scuppered by an ancient church covenant – and divine approval is likely to be essential before the scheme can go ahead.
St John’s Church, which overlooks the park, formerly owned the land, and although the church handed it over to the local authority decades ago, it does retain power of veto over its use.
Indeed, a previous attempt to convert the courts to car parking back in the 1980s was scuppered by the then-rector of St John’s John Hayward, who invoked a condition of the covenant which insisted the land be retained for recreational use.
John Andrews, spokesman for the Bath and Wells Diocese, told the Mercury this week that church lawyers are currently exploring the small print of the document in an effort to find ‘a solution to suit all parties’.
However, he insisted the church’s final ruling would be made at local level by current St John’s rector Richard Taylor.
Weston historian John Crockford-Hawley, who has been researching the covenant’s hold on the land, urged Mr Taylor to protect the tennis courts and resist any incentives which may be offered by North Somerset.
He said: “This former glebe land has been specifically dedicated to recreational and sporting uses. It is imperative we keep such facilities within the town centre, for where else will youngsters be able to let off steam?
“Before creating more surface car parks the council should review its extortionate off-street charging regime and sort out the self-imposed on-street chaos.
“I hope the rector will not be unduly influenced by the council’s dangling sprat.”