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Calls for tennis courts to be bounced across Highbury Fields

Work will cost in the region of £1million and the council plans to apply for Heritage Lottery Funding for the other £500,000.

28 November, 2016 — By Joe Cooper

More than 100 people attended a meeting held at Christ Church on Monday to discuss the future of Highbury Fields

CONTROVERSIAL plans to demolish the café and under-fives club in Highbury Fields and replace them with one building were discussed on Monday.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting at Christ Church to discuss the future of the north-east section of the fields.

It has long been recognised that Oasis café and the One O’Clock Club at the bandstand need major refurbishment and that there is a need for new public toilets.

The Town Hall has now secured £500,000 to carry out the work, with a viability study showing the best option would be to knock down the two facilities and create a new, larger building.

Highbury East councillor Caroline Russell, who is on the council steering group looking at the plans, told the Tribune: “This has always been about getting better, safer facilities and working conditions for the café and One O’Clock club. I will do everything I can to protect those services. The new building must be sensitively designed. The fields are such a well-loved area.”

The work will cost in the region of £1million and the council plans to apply for Heritage Lottery Funding for the other £500,000.

But a new group, who called Monday’s meeting, say they are willing to fundraise to meet the cost, as long as the council incorporates some of their ideas.

The Friends of Highbury Fields Community Group, headed by former councillor Jenny Sands and her husband Charles, an architect, say a block of two tennis courts – courts seven and eight – should be moved to the wooded south-east area, where the derelict park keeper’s hut is, to free up space.

They are “concerned that the size of the new building could seriously reduce the play area and not provide sufficient space to simply sit and enjoy a cuppa”.

They say their plan would effectively release almost an acre of land in the north-east corner, which is overwhelmingly used by families.

The solution was praised for being “blindingly simple” by Highbury Fields Association chairman Martin Jones. The additional cost would be around £120,000, which the group would fund-raise for. “It’s an enormous potential advantage for a small cost,” said Mr Sands.

But the courts were only resurfaced last year, and the idea has been met with a mixed reaction from tennis players.

The friends group also argue that the wooded area is “chronically underused”. Tree expert Robin Hull said that the trees that would be cut down to accommodate the tennis courts could be replaced with up to 50 trees elsewhere on the fields.

The council’s parks manager, Andrew Bedford, reassured the meeting that no plans had been decided on, and that any proposals would be subject to a full consultation.

Cllr Russell said she was “in favour of not doing anything that would prevent moving the courts in the future”.

She added: “The community needs to have a big conversation about what we want for the future of the fields.”

Highbury East ward partnership meeting will be discussing the proposals on Wednesday at the Town Hall, 7.30pm. Also up for discussion will be what kind of events the fields should be hosting.

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