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PADEL OPERATORS – DON’T DROP THE BALL!
Padel is the world’s fastest growing sport. According to Padel.fyi, as of 2022, padel had over 25 million players across 110 countries and over 40,000 padel courts globally.
Padel Operators – Don’t Drop the Ball!: Text
In recent years, padel’s popularity in the UK has grown exponentially, and as a result, there has been an acceleration by new (and existing overseas) operators to expand at pace within the UK to meet this growing demand. The impetus for this growth is underpinned by the Padel Development Plan 2020-2023 published by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), which sets out 6 key growth enablers, as follows:
1. Places – increasing the number of courts
2. People – building a coach and activator workforce
3. Programmes – making it easy to learn how to play the sport
4. Pathway – providing the environment to help players reach their potential
5. Partnerships – working with partners to accelerate growth
6. Promotion – raising the visibility of the sport to attract players & fans
NJL has been working with a number of operators looking to bring Padel facilities to the UK. We have witnessed a number of incidences where operators approach existing sports facilities or clubs to co-locate their padel facility with. The idea here is to improve the overall quality and mix of these existing sports facilities to cater to all sections of a local community, whilst making use of the existing infrastructure on site such as changing rooms and toilets. By co-locating facilities, it also allows the supply to keep pace with the ever-rising demand.
Looking into this approach further, it is clear that many (not all) operators are looking to utilise existing, underused tennis courts and MUGAs where ‘temporary’ padel courts can be constructed within the existing footprint and can utilise existing floodlighting etc.
Having worked on a number of sites over the last 18 months, we have witnessed a number of planning challenges that must be addressed through the negotiations with Local Authorities.
1. Does redeveloping existing facilities count as ‘development’?
2. How will the ‘loss’ of one sports provision in favour of padel courts be received by Sport England and other stakeholders?
The first planning conundrum here is whether this comprises ‘development’ for the purposes of Section 55 of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and if planning permission is required. It is our professional opinion that this ultimately comes down to the fact and degree of the works proposed. For example, do the proposals include the erection of associated canopies, re-positioning of floodlights, signage? etc. However on balance to avoid any complications at a later date, we advise planning permission is sought so as to not prejudice statutory consultees, namely Sport England.
The stance that the Lawn Tennis Association and Sport England take on the loss of existing tennis courts and MUGAs is the second planning conundrum. It is clear that a balance will need to be struck between the delivery of new padel facilities and the retention of tennis facilities, to ensure that the overall local sport facility offerings do not become imbalanced. This issue is exacerbated by the number of operators seeking planning permission for sites in the same boroughs, which if all approved, could feasibly lead to over-saturation of padel facilities and under-provision of other facilities.
It is therefore likely that over the coming months and years, as new padel facilities are submitted for planning, there will be significant discussions between Local Authorities, the LTA and Sport England to ensure such imbalances do not occur.
The concerns around the loss of existing sports facilities and concerns around the perceived / actual demand for padel in these locations will necessitate comprehensive reviews of Local Authority Sports Pitch Assessments immediately, and further guidance will need to be developed by statutory bodies on whether padel sits separate to tennis or whether they are to be assessed under the same umbrella.
In the absence of this guidance, and whilst Playing Pitch Assessments are being updated by Local Authorities, then at least in the short-term, padel operators will need to be proactive in providing evidence in respect of the demand at a local level for padel, and the stated underutilisation of the existing facilities which will be the subject of the change of use (with due regard to other live applications and recent consents).
Our experience of dealing with Sport England as a statutory consultee is that generally , Local Authorities are uncomfortable with overriding their objections in the planning balance.
Therefore, the burden of evidence sits with the operator as applicant regarding need / underutilisation of existing facilities, and so to avoid issues during determination, evidence should be submitted with the application up-front. Therefore in the short-term, the ball is very much in the operator’s court to demonstrate need and demand… To discuss further, please do get in touch with Oliver Eves or Victoria Coleman who are leading on a number of Padel facility applications across the country.
Padel Operators – Don’t Drop the Ball!: Text
Padel Operators – Don’t Drop the Ball!: Image
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