Call for probe into controversial tennis courts plan for park

Heigham Park, Norwich. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

Heigham Park in Norwich. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Controversy over plans for three all-weather, floodlit, tennis courts in a Norwich park has sparked a call for further scrutiny of the process surrounding the scheme.

Work is due to start to replace 10 grass courts in Heigham Park, off Jessopp Road, with three hard-surface courts.

Norwich City Council's planning committee granted its own plans approval in 2018, with Labour leaders saying it would save on maintenance costs and make tennis more accessible and cheaper.

Heigham Park campaigners call for grass court rethink

Campaigners are calling for work to install tennis courts in Heigham Park to be paused. - Credit: George Thompson

But campaigners have been calling for the council to pause the work to consult with people.

They say there was not proper pre-planning application consultation before. The council says it consulted the Heigham Park Grass Courts Group, the Gardens Trust, Lawn Tennis Association and Friends of Heigham Park.

Campaigners question a number of elements of the process.

That includes why Nelson ward councillors were emailed in 2017 to be told the council was seeking money from the Lawn Tennis Association to replace the courts and planned to lodge a planning application.

Yet, they say, there did not seem to have been a publicly recorded policy decision around that in advance of that email.

Lucy Galvin, chair of the Marlpit Community Centre. Pic: Paul Harrison.

Lucy Galvin, Green city councillor for Nelson ward. - Credit: Paul Harrison

At a council meeting on Tuesday (July 20), Lucy Galvin, Green city councillor for Nelson, asked the authority's audit committee to investigate the "policies and procedures that have underpinned the project".

Fellow Green Ben Price, who chairs the audit committee, said he would support her request, but the head of finance audit and risk would need to be made aware of specific issues so they can be considered.

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Mrs Galvin also asked the council for a fresh ecological survey of the courts, which have become a meadow since they closed.

Matthew Packer, cabinet member for health and wellbeing. Pic: Labour Party.

Matthew Packer, Labour's Norwich City Council cabinet member for for health and wellbeing. - Credit: Labour Party

Matthew Packer, Labour cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: "An expert, professional, qualified ecologist will be undertaking a verification piece of work based on the findings of the survey and identify any changes."

He added 60pc of the space where the grass courts were will remain when new courts are put in.

He said: "Park users will have an opportunity to influence how it is used, this could potentially involve it remaining as a meadow and/or community garden amongst other alternatives."