Calls intensify to halt plans for new tennis courts in city park
- Credit: George Thompson
Calls for controversial work to install floodlit, all-weather tennis courts in a Norwich park to be put on hold have intensified.
It comes after a voluntary group backed campaigners, who are trying to convince Norwich City Council to think again over plans to replace 10 grass tennis courts in Heigham Park with three hard surface ones.
People living near Heigham Park, in Jessopp Road, want the council to consult with them over the project, saying that did not happen correctly previously.
They say that, while 120 people objected to the plans, agreed in 2018, the council should have carried out consultation with the community before the planning process began.
The council says it did consult and points to discussions with the Heigham Park Grass Courts Group, the Gardens Trust, Lawn Tennis Association, Friends of Heigham Park, and the park’s tennis club in 2017.
But campaigners say that was not pre-application consultation with residents.
And they question why the council will not pause the project - part of a £435,000 scheme to install courts in Heigham Park and in Lakenham - to ask people whether they want the courts.
This week, the Friends of Heigham Park, a voluntary group which promotes the park, backed a motion calling for the council to pause construction "until a thorough consultation of local residents and park users has been carried out to ascertain a full range of views as to the best use of the entire area formerly used for grass tennis courts".
The group, which had previously taken a neutral stance, said circumstances had "radically changed" since 2018, given increased awareness of environmental issues and "significantly increased park usage" following the coronavirus pandemic.
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The former courts have become a meadow since they closed in 2017 - and campaigners say there would be merit in allowing them to remain that way.
Campaigner James Packham, who lives in College Road, said: "We think it is fair and just to pause and to have a proper consultation on the project.
"Most of us feel that, if there was a proper and fair consultation and the majority of those people wanted hard tennis courts we would think 'fair enough'.
"But we don't think that would happen. For most of us, the most heated part of this is the concreting over of the courts and we want a solution which avoids the degrading of the park."
Campaigners have questioned why the council is unable to split the cost of the two schemes to say how much each will cost.
They say without that information, it is hard to scrutinise the council's financial case for making the changes.
The council had hoped money from the Lawn Tennis Association would cover some of the costs, but that became unavailable, so the council is drawing money from its own budget and using other sources, including cash from developers.
Campaigners have been writing to council leader Alan Waters and to cabinet members to press their case for a pause and consultation.
They also asked questions at a recent meeting of the council, where they were told proper procedures had been followed throughout the planning process.
Following those questions, the city council published a statement on its website about the issue.
It stated: "From the very beginning, this project has been about improving facilities for our residents and investing in our historic and much-loved parks.
"It is also an important part of delivering our priority to improve health and wellbeing – more important now than ever.
“During the process we have listened to and considered, the views of community groups.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve been able to move forward with our plans for the tennis expansion starting at Lakenham Recreation Ground recently, building on the success of previous Norwich Parks Tennis sites such as Eaton Park.
“The importance of delivering this sporting facility for our residents can’t be underestimated in terms of the associated health benefits as well as reducing anti-social behaviour and vandalism through the increased use of the park.”
Questioned on why the council would not now ask local people for their views, a spokesman said: "We are considering how and when we will consult on the management and maintenance of the remaining grass area.
"Once the courts have been delivered, we will consult with the local community about what they would like the area outside the courts to be used for."
But Mr Packham said that was not sufficient. He said: "Why not pause and think again? Why not ask the community what they want?"