Park protest gran to put removed banner back after UEA expert's advice
- Credit: Peter Cutting
An 81-year-old grandmother, whose protest banner about new tennis courts was among dozens removed from a park, intends to put it back - after a law professor said the council was wrong to take them down.
Retired nurse Annie Holgate put the five metre long banner, which cost her £160, up on a hedge at Heigham Park, in Jessopp Road, in July.
The banner was in protest at Norwich City Council's plans to install three all-weather, floodlit, tennis courts at the park, replacing 10 grass tennis courts.
People living in the area have been campaigning for consultation over those plans, which were agreed by City Hall's planning committee in 2018.
But the campaigners contacted Prof David Mead, a professor of UK human rights law at the University of East Anglia's Law School over the issue.
And Prof Mead, academic fellow to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, said he believed the council had been wrong to take down the banners.
He said, under the Human Rights Act 1998, the council should not take a decision which breaches someone else's rights - in this case the right to freedom of expression - unless it could show it was necessary to do so for limited reasons, such as if it was a threat to national security or public safety.
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Prof Mead said it would also need to have been a proportionate response and said: "I think the council would be hard pushed to make good its case.
"Far and away the greater problem is the lack of proportionality - unfortunately for the council, it is not just political speech but political speech directed at them or at their lack of consultation, their processes.
"This makes the case even harder as political/democratic institutions should expect not to be insulated from even hostile criticism.’’
The council had removed more than 50 posters from the fence of the park, but protestors have now got them back and intend to rehang them.
James Packham, from the Heigham Park Consultation Group, said: "I thought this determined and systematic stifling of legitimate protest was over the top and out of all proportion – the council was actively taking down harmless posts every day."
And Mrs Holgate said: "I wrote to the council asking for my banner back and in the interim, I felt so strongly that, although I’m a pensioner, I’ve bought another and put it up in my front garden. I will be displaying both banners now.”
Lucy Galvin, Green city councillor for Nelson ward, said: "I hope the council will stop trying to stifle this positive debate and launch a proper consultation on the future of this part of the park.”
But a Norwich City Council spokesperson said: "This is something we’re looking into and taking professional advice on to confirm our legal position.
“A specific area of focus will be the enforcement laws for fly-posting.”
The council says it did consult with various groups over the tennis courts scheme and that the planning process allowed people to have their say.