WOKINGHAM’S squash players are outraged at the "dreadful" decision to remove three squash courts from Loddon Valley Leisure Centre.

Watch the squash players ridicule the council here.

Plans were announced in August to remove the playing areas at Loddon Valley Leisure Centre in Earley in favour of installing new gym facilities, new studios and a soft play area.

More than sixty Loddon Valley squash players could now have to join dozens of others in sharing just two squash sites in the borough.

Loddon Valley squash league administrator Ian Gordon told the Chronicle: "This is outrageous.

"We all think it is dreadful what they are doing.

“I am angry and aggrieved - they’re helping to ruin the game of squash”.

The refurbishments are set to be delivered by Places Leisure in a £2 million revamp.

Places Leisure signed a 15-year contract with Wokingham Borough Council in January to run the borough’s health and recreation facilities.

But now Earley’s squash players feel they have been ignored by the council and Places Leisure after no formal public consultation was taken to gather resident’s thoughts on removing the courts.

Mr Gordon said: “I don’t think it is right that they should make this decision before talking to people.”

“We want squash courts and we should be entitled to them like any other sport.”

Places Leisure are also overseeing gym refurbishments at Bulmershe, Carnival Pool and Ryeish Green leisure centres.

And after announcing the refurbishments at Loddon Valley last month, executive member for environment, leisure and libraries Norman Jorgensen said: “One of our key missions is to encourage and empower people in the Wokingham Borough to try out and embrace sport and fitness.

“And for those already enjoying the benefits of regular exercise, give them the choice to have a go at something new.

“But to do this successfully, you need modern and enticing leisure facilities.”

Loddon Valley squash player Simon Corbyn said: “These courts are some of the best courts I have played on.

“Families come here and play squash.

“Perhaps there are not enough of us during the day, but soft play areas won’t get used in the evening as the children will be in bed.

“Squash courts will.”

Loddon Valley’s squash court users play competitively during the week and play leisurely on Sunday mornings.

However, they claim they have had to contend with children’s parties, table tennis players and pole dancing classes, all of which also use the courts but damage the surfaces.

And despite this, the squash players pay an extra £5 on top of their leisure centre membership fees to use the courts during peak hours.

Loddon Valley regular Julie Freak said: “I don’t think they can say there is no demand.

“It is a great sport and it is completely awful they are taking away this opportunity.”

Squash enthusiast George Fleming added: “If every leisure centre made the same decision they have, it would be the end of squash.

“It is worth fighting the cause to try and hold on to these squash courts.”

Places Leisure’s website says “squash is a fast sport that works you harder than most” but the leisure providers appear to be prioritising group fitness spaces and swimming after making the latter available to over 60s and under 8s for free.

In an email reply sent to a concerned squash league player, Councillor Norman Jorgensen said Places Leisure “forecast engaging more people in fitness programmes as a result of their proposed changes.”

He continued: “They are investing the money and forecast many more users of the leisure centre as a result of the planned changes.

“Squash courts remain at St Crispins Leisure Centre in Wokingham, also operated by Places for People (Places Leisure).

“Wokingham Borough Council also owns squash courts in Sonning.

“We are currently upgrading these and will be available prior to any loss of courts at Loddon Valley.”

“Depending on where you live, these may be less convenient.”

Loddon Valley’s squash players claim the courts at St Crispins are too far away and difficult to reach because of traffic, as well as there being too few courts at the site.

One said that playing at Sonning’s courts would require another membership fee, and another insisted that they would take drastic action because of the decision to remove the courts.

Mike Boardman said: “Should squash stop so will my membership.

“The present cost allows for those with minimal income to engage and stay reasonably fit.”

Wokingham Borough Council and Places Leisure were contacted for comment, and in response released a joint statement.

Councillor Norman Jorgensen, who told the Chronicle he used to play squash regularly, said: “With limited space available at Loddon Valley, the activities we offer have to take into account the majority demand in our community, as well as any alternative provision within the local area.

“The squash courts can currently only accommodate two players at a time; whereas the new studios, adventure play and extended gym space that will be delivered through planned improvement works, will enable even more people to enjoy the facilities and take part in physical activity.

“We have negotiated use of two courts at Berkshire County Sports Club in Sonning, which are available to hire by contacting the club direct.

“Loddon Valley customers will also be able to continue to access squash courts at St Crispin’s Leisure Centre, which is also managed by Places Leisure.”

WATCH the Chronicle's special video investigation in to the removal of the squash courts here.