Council has been accused of destroying a possible ‘oasis of nature’ after plowing a wildflower meadow containing 130 species of wild animals and plant types to make way for a set of hard tennis courts .
Dozens of local residents protested after Norwich City Council announced plans to install three floodlit courts in harsh weather in Heigham Park at a cost of £ 266,000.
The site was previously used as a complex of ten lawn tennis courts, but was closed in 2017 following approval of the council’s planning application for three new all-season courts.
The following year, an environmental survey described the prairie as being of “poor ecological quality” – but it has since re-waged and become habitat for a multitude of types of plants and animals.
Specialized environmentalists gained access to the site to conduct a wildlife survey last month. Sarah Gelpke, an environmentalist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) who led the investigation, said The independent that the prairie had become a “biodiversity hotspot”.
“With the poll, I thought it was important to give the board some thought. If they had let nature take its course, it could have become a true oasis of nature, but it feels like they plowed anyway, ”she said.
“The biodiversity of urban areas has not been taken into account. Councils and government are constantly announcing environmental plans – I hope this can be a call for them to take action and try to protect nature. “
The two-hour survey uncovered and cataloged 56 kinds of flowering plants, six kinds of grasses, and 12 kinds of trees and shrubs. Among the animals identified were the wood mouse, the hedgehog and the Eurasian pygmy shrew.
At the same time, a nocturnal bat survey also identified the presence of common pipistrelle, common pipistrelle and long-eared brown bats at the site.
Local residents have launched the Heigham Park consultation group in hopes of lobbying council to overturn the decision and launch a new consultation on building the hard courts. They claim residents were not properly consulted, which the council denies.
Denise Carlo, the Greens adviser to Nelson Ward, said The independent there was “considerable anger” in the community over the decision.
“Our neighborhood is very built up and the gardens are tiny,” she said. “Having an acre of grass in an area like ours is a rare thing, so for the council to approve its destruction is truly depressing.
“Grass in urban areas is a dwindling resource. It is so important for the cooling of the city and the biodiversity. The advice just closed its ears every turn, which is very frustrating. “
She added: “It was a beautiful hay meadow – to see an excavator go through it is horrible.”
The group has stepped up protests over the past two months. Signs hanging on the park gates recently read “Hands off Heigham Park, we love it” and “Ask the community before you destroy our nature”.
The Gardens Trust, a national charity dedicated to the preservation of UK parks, also opposed the move and claimed it did not respect the historic status of the Grade II registered park.
In a statement, the group said: ‘We applaud the council’s goal of providing modern sports facilities in Norwich, but there are other ways to achieve this and reduce costs for the council without sacrificing the landscaped heritage. from the city.
“The money saved in city council capital could then be used to provide additional hard courts in less sensitive locations, and everyone would benefit.”
A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said the project aimed to “improve facilities for our residents” and was “an important part of achieving our priority of improving health and well-being”.
“During the process, we listened to and considered the views of community groups,” they said.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were able to move forward with our tennis expansion plans from Lakenham Recreation Ground recently, building on the success of previous Norwich Parks tennis venues such as Eaton Park .
“The importance of providing this sports facility to our residents cannot be understated in terms of the health benefits as well as the reduction of anti-social behavior and vandalism through increased use of the park. “
The Council said the courts will offer a reduced cost of play for users and will come with training programs designed for a range of abilities and ages. Construction on the project began on September 6 and is expected to take 12 weeks, a spokesperson said.
They added: “A formal consultation took place in 2017 as part of the initial planning request process. Independent heritage and environmental impact assessments have also been carried out, alongside equality impact assessments, to inform our proposals. ”