Heigham Park in Norwich at risk

Birds eye view of Heigham Park showing proposed new tennis courts

Heigham Park in Norwich is at risk from plans by Norwich Council to replace grass tennis courts with three floodlit all-weather courts. The Gardens Trust have objected to the proposals for Heigham Park, which do not respect the historic status of this Grade II registered park, designed by Captain Arnold Sandys-Winsch in 1921. We applaud the council’s aim of providing up-to-date sports facilities for Norwich, but there are other ways to achieve this and reduce costs to the council without sacrificing the city’s landscape heritage.

A planning application for the courts was first submitted in summer 2017, when we pointed out the damage this would cause. The courts would sit across the long vista from the rose garden to the tennis pavilion destroying at a stroke the most important feature of the design.

Birds eye view of Heigham Park showing proposed new tennis courts
Birds eye view of Heigham Park showing proposed new tennis courts placed across the axis leading to the pavilion (far left) © Peter Cutting

We agree with the Heritage Impact Assessment which said the plans would affect the significance of this registered park. An amended proposal was submitted in 2018, with the courts still sited across the vista. As GT Conservation Officer Margie Hoffnung said in our response in August 2018: ‘We are unable to support an application with this basic design flaw which impacts so negatively upon the significance and understanding of the original design intent of Sandys-Winsch.’

Tennis courts plea ignored

Heigham Park is a small green oasis of six acres in an urban area and its character would be substantially changed by the addition of all-weather courts, fencing and lighting. The council closed the courts in September 2017 and they are currently a fenced-off meadow, as we mentioned in our article about the role of parks during the pandemic

Heigham Park, Norfolk - tennis courts left as meadow
The grass tennis courts have been fenced off and left to become a meadow. © James Packham

The Eastern Daily Press ran a letter from Simon Beckett about the council’s decision, saying:

“I read in the paper that in defence of plans to replace 10 grass tennis courts with three all weather courts at Heigham Park, Norwich City Council says it consulted the Gardens Trust and others as part of the planning process. That is true. But the council chose to ignore the Gardens Trust who said ‘We would be grateful if you could please put both our letters of objection regarding this application before your committee and urge your officers to refuse this application.’…The council should not rip up the ‘heritage asset’ without an excellent, well supported, coherent plan for the whole area.”

A better plan is possible

The Heigham Park Grass Tennis Group have produced a costed business plan to take over management of the courts, which would relieve the council of the claimed annual cost of £40,000 for maintaining the courts. Their plan would also include the pavilion within the fenced area, to protect it from vandalism, which included a suspicious fire in November 2019.

Heigham Park tennis pavilion after fire Photo © Sally Bate

Denise Carlo, a local councillor for the ward in which Heigham Park is situated says, “Heigham Park is a dearly loved historic park. The local community is keen to take on maintenance and running of four grass courts, with the remainder of the grass used for quiet recreation and nature conservation.  However, Norwich City Council has dismissed the community offer out of hand even though seven floodlit all-weather tennis courts are already available at a much larger public park a few streets away”.

Heigham Park grass tennis courts as they were © Sally Bate

If the current grass courts are swept away, there will be no grass tennis left in Norwich at all. At one stage Norwich had over ninety grass tennis courts and Heigham Park, and before that Heigham Playing Fields, contained some of the earliest public courts. The decision to do away with these courts would end that history as well as damaging the design of the park.

The Gardens Trust urge Norwich council to give this particular heritage site a reprieve, and allow the Heigham Park Grass Tennis Group time to show that they can maintain this heritage asset for the city.  The city council capital money saved (£262,000) could then be used to provide additional hard courts in less sensitive locations, and everyone would benefit.

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith