Turf war: Madam Squash furious over Council plans for Warringah Recreation Centre

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Michelle Martin, to quote the character Howard Beale (Peter Finch) from the 1976 film Network, is “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

Martin is a three-time world squash champion (1993-95) and was world No.1 for six years. Today she’s a coach and member of the local squash community. She is, effectively, the northern beaches’ ‘Madam Squash’. The game has no greater advocate.

And when she heard that her baby, North Manly Squash Club, had received a 90-day notice to vacate premises due to the building of the Warringah Golf Club’s new clubhouse on site at Warringah Recreation Centre, corner Kentwell and Pittwater roads, Martin promised action.

“If they don’t want protests on their golf greens or on their golf tee-offs on a Saturday, they better give us answers,” Martin told The Beaches Champion.

“Otherwise, we’ll be standing on their tees going, ‘Sorry – until we get answers you can’t play!

“I’m happy to do that, I tell you!”

Mad as hell: Michelle Martin at North Manly Squash Club. Pic: Matt Cleary

Martin was cautiously optimistic, even excited when Council announced a $5 million upgrade to the Warringah Recreation Centre including “upgrades to the squash courts” and a new multi-sport facility with a minimum of three indoor squash courts.

That was on November 30.

Today Martin feels like Council’s kicking them out for no reason.

“The [new] golf club clubhouse hasn’t even been advertised yet. It’s got to be appraised by whoever. Then it’s got to be advertised. Then they’ve got to take comments into consideration, and adjust or take on board or whatever they have to do.

Then they’ve got to do whatever else.

“It [the Development Application (DA) process] is not going to be sorted in three months. It’s going to be ages. So why are they wanting us out so soon?”

Three-time world squash champion 1993-95, Michelle Martin. Pic: World Squash Federation.

Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan said in a statement: “The upgraded Warringah Recreation Centre will serve the changing needs of the community and allow for a wider range of sports, across a wider range of ages and levels.

“Multi-purpose facilities are the way of the future, offering far better assets for the whole community to enjoy now and into the future.

“The new recreation centre will be flexible, multi-purpose, intergenerational, and accessible for all. It will support the local squash and tennis community and support the next generation of sportspeople.”

Martin, though, doesn’t trust Council to deliver what she believes was promised.

“We’ve got no information on when or even if they will build what they said they’re going to.

“They’ve been conversing with us but you start to wonder whether you’re just being set you so they can knock your club down. I just don’t feel like we’re getting security around our build. I don’t have faith that they’re going to deliver,” Martin says, adding that “there are no squash courts on the redevelopment master plan”.

“Just because they’ve applied for a grant doesn’t mean you’re going to use it.

“They’ve been telling us that [the master plan ] is ‘just a footprint of what we’ve got left and squash and tennis can work it out’.

“But squash and tennis aren’t actually getting a say in it that because the Council are doing the DA [Development Application].

“So, they’re telling us that we can work out what we need, but then they’re going ahead and doing the DA and there’s no consultation with us.

“They’re pretending to have consultation with us.

“I’m starting to not trust what they’re talking about,” Martin says.

Five squash courts equal one tennis court, according to Michelle Martin. Pic: Matt Cleary

Martin understands that the Warringah Golf Club clubhouse will be self-funded and that, as per the Council’s press release, “the funds will deliver a new multi-sport facility with a minimum of three indoor squash courts and spectator seating, fully accessible public amenities, changerooms, community storage, five new synthetic tennis courts with floodlights, as well as footpaths, bike racks and landscaping.”

Martin, however, fears that much of the $5 million will be spent on car parking, a bridge, landscaping and sundry works, and that there may be little left for squash.

“They’re proposing some of the leftover land for tennis and squash.

“But the grant, the funding, apparently entails car parking, bus stop, bridge, squash and tennis.

“I mean, we thought they were applying for a squash and tennis grant, and possibly a bit of car parking.

“But when you start putting in all this other stuff … I can see what’s going to happen; they’re going to turn around and say ‘we’ve run out of money’.

“They’ve done that to us before when they put the Futsal court in.

“They said ‘we’re going to do the squash courts up’. The it was ‘oh, sorry, we’ve run out of money’.

“That’s why I don’t have have a lot of faith in what they’re saying at the moment,” Martin says.

Martin says there has been communication with Council but that the body’s plans for the Centre aren’t “transparent”.

“It’s all very well for them to say they’ve got this grant. They’ve been communicating with us to a certain extent without being very transparent on what they’re actually doing.

“And now they’re saying ‘get out in three months’. Well, hold on a sec, the site is nowhere near ready. You can’t do anything on the site, you haven’t had the DA approved.

“So why are you trying to vacate it?”

Michelle Martin won Commonwealth Games gold for australia at Kuala Lumpa in 1998. Pic: World Squash Federation.

The Beaches Champion sent six questions to Council and received this statement in response, which in part read:

“A development application was lodged by Warringah Golf Club on 30 November 2022 (DA2022/2081). Council has requested additional information prior to public exhibition and determination.

“Current operators at the Warringah Recreation Centre have recently been given notice to vacate by 11 April 2023 and advised should there be delays with the Development Assessment process a further holding over period is possible .

“Council has been in regular discussions with the three operators at Warringah Recreation Centre and all were aware that Warringah Golf Club was lodging a Development Application. Council has worked closely with local sporting bodies, including Squash NSW, to understand their needs for the new recreation centre.”

Works are expected to begin in July and finish by December 31, 2025.

“Where are we meant to go?

“It’s not fair that somebody dictates this and there’s no clear guidelines around it.

“It’s not transparent at all. It’s just not acceptable,” Martin says.

Martin will have the chance to quiz Mayor Regan and Council CEO Ray Brownlee at a meeting on February 6, along with the local sports community and representatives of NSW Squash.

Martin says it’s in Council’s interest to allow the squash courts to remain operational until building works begin otherwise they’ll “have a battle on their hands”.

“The squash community will ramp up just like the golf community did when they were looking to lose their nine holes.

“If they close these courts, when will they build them? You lose so many people from a facility when it’s closed for so long. Our numbers are building every week. Court bookings are going up. Where are people going to go? You can’t just shut the door with no explanation of where, if and why,” Martin says.

The only other squash courts on the northern beaches are at Elanora, a private operation with five courts. A site at North Head was investigated but found to have asbestos.

Council said it “continues to assist in identifying opportunities to find alternate squash court facilities”.  

For now, Martin awaits her showdown with Council on February 6. Though even that date is “unacceptable”, according to Martin.

“It’s too late. I’m sorry. When Councils want to act they’ll act very quickly. And when they don’t want to they’ll just prolong things.

“And next minute you’re out on your ear,” she says.

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One thought on “Turf war: Madam Squash furious over Council plans for Warringah Recreation Centre

  1. What happened to the plan of warringah golf club building on there existing infrastructure above the pro shop, canteen and toilet area then only the club is there. This would work for all then the squash and tennis could be upgraded

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