MEMBERS have been locked out of Lymington Tennis Club as the town council prepares to take legal action against the management.
All activity there has been cancelled after measures were approved by councillors to try to claw back rent arrears and regain control of the leases from the company that runs the club.
The crisis-hit organisation is based at the Sports Ground off Avenue Road and has about 300 members, according to its website. It has four floodlit courts and offers junior and adult coaching sessions.
But its future is currently up in the air after the gates were padlocked by the town council, which owns the site.
The situation was laid out to town councillors for the first time at a meeting last week during a secret session from which the public and press were excluded.
Councillors voted to press ahead with legal action for a forfeiture of the leases to regain formal control of the building – which could ultimately cost thousands of pounds.
An email sent by the club to members earlier this week said: “We discovered yesterday the council has unfortunately made the decision to padlock the two gates to the courts. All sessions are currently cancelled.
“We have a meeting with the council on Thursday and will provide an update if the situation changes.”
The wrangle dates back to 2013 when a pair of 21-year leases for the pavilion and the courts was originally agreed between Lymington and Pennington Town Council and Lymington Tennis Ltd, the company behind the club.
But according to a statement sent to the A&T by the town council, in 2016 the company was sold to new directors who took on the lease.
Following the resignations of two directors, the sole registered director of Lymington Tennis Ltd is now the club’s head coach, 37-year-old Neil Webb.
Concerns have grown over more than a year about the site’s maintenance, including from club members, and in September the town council prepared to make a legal order for repairs to be made.
But before it could be issued Mr Webb left a note on the clubhouse door saying that he had quit.
Since then talks have been ongoing between the club and the council over the lease – but without success.
Town clerk Caroline Godfrey told the A&T: “We have worked very hard to try to support the tenant not to get to this position but it has become unavoidable now, so we have had to start to take action.
“We thought we had come to a suitable arrangement over a voluntary surrender of the lease, subject to conditions. That has not happened so we have had to start a forfeiture.”
She added: “The public can be assured that we will do everything we can to ensure that tennis can continue at the facilities at the earliest opportunity.”
Mr Webb did not respond to the A&T’s repeated requests via the club for comment.
A five-strong working group has been keeping members up to date after an emergency meeting was held at the club after Mr Webb walked out.
A recent email warned that “cash-flow will be tight” until memberships are paid in April. It added: “However, this is still early days, there are still some unknowns around the lease, which will become clear over the following week.
“There are other potential commercial scenarios too which may be good for both the members and council. So we will need to wait and see.”
On Wednesday the back entrance to the site was locked and the gates to the courts shut fast with a padlock.
Legal notices were posted up on Tuesday warning that any attempt to enter the site without the town council’s permission as landlord may be a “criminal offence and result in prosecution”.
The club’s crisis echoes that of Lymington Sport Association which also had a contract with the town council to run its clubhouse at Woodside before collapsing in February, at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £3,000.
Mrs Godfrey described the two cases as very different but said the town council would be more “hands on” in the future with organisations managing its premises.
She said: “What I said to councillors, as we move forward, is we need to learn where we are on these things.”
Up until 29th October the club was still promoting on Twitter a junior tennis coaching course which was due to have started last Saturday.