Dismay at new tennis-courts on common land

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Three new tennis-courts and other works have been permitted on Therfield Heath Common in Hertfordshire.

The Conservators of Therfield Heath, on behalf of Royston Tennis Club, sought consent from the Planning Inspectorate, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, for three new and three replacement tennis-courts, lighting columns, a log-cabin clubhouse and mesh fencing on the common. Planning inspector Heidi Cruickshank approved the application after a site visit last month.

We objected because the proposed development with floodlighting would suburbanise the area and destroy the peace and tranquillity of the common.

We are sad that this development has been allowed on common land. While we appreciate that there are already tennis-courts here, this does not justify further development of the area.

We consider that the development conflicts with the spirit and the letter of the 1912 award by which the common is regulated. This decrees that local inhabitants shall have ‘at all times a right of free access to the common and a privilege of playing cricket and other games and of enjoying reasonable recreation thereon…’.

The proposed works conflict with that right of free access and, at the time the regulation was made, the sort of games that were envisaged were far less formal than tennis-courts with floodlighting. In addition, there is a general right for the public to walk over the whole area, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, but the fencing will obstruct those rights, and will make the common more like a prison.

The society argued instead that, if the applicants were determined to go ahead, they should offer common land in exchange for that to be taken, a procedure which can be carried out under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006.

The inspector recognised that the works will interfere with access rights, but noted that the existing courts had been in place for about 40 years. She also considered ‘that there will be some effect on the public interest in relation to visual intrusion’. However, she concluded that consent should be given.

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