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Legal battle could see Norwich park tennis row set for High Court

PUBLISHED: 16:29 20 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:30 20 December 2018

Protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts

Protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts

Archant

A legal fight could see Norwich City Council taken to the High Court over a controversial decision to remove the city’s last publicly-owned tennis courts.

Opponents who tried to stop City Hall from agreeing to the removal of the courts in Heigham Park have instructed solicitors to begin a judicial review into the planning committee’s decision.

Almost 120 people had objected to the city council’s application to its own planning committee to replace the 10 courts in the Golden Triangle park with three all weather ones.

City Hall had said it could no longer “heavily subsidise” maintenance of grass courts and a tie-up with the Lawn Tennis Association would bring funding for new courts.

There was fierce opposition to the proposals, including from the Gardens Trust, which said it did not respect the Grade II-listed park’s historic status.

Peter Cutting leads protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts. Pic: Neil Perry.Peter Cutting leads protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts. Pic: Neil Perry.

But, after an initial proposal to defer a decision failed by six votes to four, the committee voted, again by six votes to four, to approve the application.

And that has sparked the Heigham Park Grass Courts Group to instruct solicitors and to start a Crowdfunder to raise £3,000 for their legal fight.

The letter sent to council challenges the council’s decision to grant itself permission.

They said councillor Roger Ryan, who had been cabinet member for customer care and leisure when the changes were first proposed, should not have been able to take part in the planning vote.

The tennis courts at Heigham Park are locked up. Pic: Dan Grimmer.The tennis courts at Heigham Park are locked up. Pic: Dan Grimmer.

And they claim officers had not given correct advice to the committee on the issue of whether the social and economic benefits outweighed harm to the historic assets of the park.

Peter Cutting, chair of the Heigham Park Grass Courts Group, which had offered to take on the maintenance and running of the grass courts, said: “Sadly, we have taken this step because the city council has refused to listen to the local community in wanting to protect this well-loved park.

“All-weather courts with floodlighting would damage the park’s special heritage character and see the loss of the last public grass courts in Norwich.”

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council confirmed the authority had received the letter from the group’s solicitors, but that it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.

Protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courtsProtests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts

A history of Heigham Park

The six-acre Heigham Park, which has its entrance on the corner of Recreation Road and The Avenues, is listed at Grade II by Historic England.

Designed by the city’s parks superintendent Captain Arnold Sandys-Winsch, who also laid out other city parks Eaton Park, Waterloo Park, Wensum Park and Mile Cross Gardens.

Flashback to when the Heigham Park tennis courts were in use. Photo: Bill SmithFlashback to when the Heigham Park tennis courts were in use. Photo: Bill Smith

Work on Heigham Park began in 1921 and it took three years to complete, with the formal opening in 1924.

The thatched, wooden pavilion at the far side of the tennis courts is one of the park’s original features.

In March last year, Norwich City Council revealed how it hoped to get hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment in tennis courts, through a tie up with the Lawn Tennis Association.

Plans were lodged for Heigham Park, Harford Park, Lakenham Recreation Ground and at Eaton Park.

Protests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courtsProtests outside City Hall in Norwich over Heigham Park tennis courts

But the Heigham Park proposals proved to be the most contentious.

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