Welsh National Tennis Centre: LTA trying to protect facilities

Cardiff indoor tennis centre . Pic: Virgin Active
The centre opened in 1996 allowing pay-per-play tennis indoors

Crisis talks are taking place in an attempt to keep the Welsh National Tennis Centre in Cardiff Bay open after operator Virgin Active announced it will close amid financial problems.

The Lawn Tennis Association, which gave a grant of £995,000 to the centre in 1996, says it is working with Cardiff Council to try to protect the centre's tennis facilities.

Peter Drew, chief executive of governing body Tennis Wales, said he was confident new partners could be found to take over the centre.

"This is a top priority for us to keep the centre open in some form for tennis activity," he said.

"There's never any guarantees on that but we're very hopeful and confident that will be the case and tennis will continue at the centre."

On Sunday, Andy Murray ended Britain's 77-year wait for a men's Wimbledon champion, prompting intense discussion about grassroots tennis in the UK.

Drew added: "Obviously the timing is not ideal because there is a fantastic buzz for tennis around Britain and Wales with Andy Murray's fantastic achievement and we know that's going to help get a lot more people interested in playing tennis.

"This is a an unfortunate situation that's come up now."

A Virgin Active Health Clubs statement said financial pressures had led to a decision to close the centre on Friday, 23 August.

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The moment Murray won Wimbledon

"When we acquired the club from Esporta in July 2011 it was making a significant operating loss, and after two years of running the facility we have reached the conclusion that it is not financially viable for us to operate there," read the statement.

"Tennis Wales occupy offices at the club under a separate lease with the local council.

"We are unable to say whether the facility will continue to operate after we leave.

"We continue to invest heavily in our racquets clubs across the UK, and have seen tennis memberships and participation increase significantly as a result."

LTA chief executive Roger Draper had defended facilities for emerging players in the wake of Murray's victory, amid accusations British tennis is elitist and lacks depth.

Responding to news of the closure, an LTA spokesperson said on Thursday the organisation was disappointed as its goal is to get more people playing tennis.

"As soon as we found about this, earlier this week, we entered into intensive discussions with the council to look at how we can protect the tennis facilities at this site," the LTA added.

"We are very committed to working with the council to identify other potential partners who could deliver a tennis programme at the centre. Those discussions are ongoing."

Cardiff Council said the closure of the leisure facility was a matter for Virgin Active, and confirmed they had met the remaining tenant Tennis Wales "to identify their requirements".

The announcement comes in the wake of a successful campaign to keep Swansea Tennis Centre open after the city's council decided to withdraw funding of £120,000 a year in 2010.

Volunteers took over the centre, setting up Tennis Swansea 365 in 2011.

TS365, made up of centre users, was given the lease on the indoor and outdoor courts near the city's Liberty Stadium.

Coaches at Cardiff and Swansea run a range of programmes from beginners to performance players, and both centres offer pay-and-play, removing the need for participants to join a club.

Virgin Active Health Clubs said members of the Cardiff club would be able to transfer membership to other clubs outside the capital city, including Cwmbran and Bridgend, or cancel and receive a refund of any payments already made.