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Highbury Fields

One of Islington Council’s key priorities is to create a cleaner, greener, and healthier borough. Islington is a busy and built-up place and our local parks provide much needed space to exercise, relax and meet. Highbury Fields is our biggest park, and one of our most popular, and we would like to improve the visitor and sports facilities for more people to enjoy.

Our survey about the design proposals for a new café building and wildlife garden was open between Monday 7 February and Friday 11 March 2022. We also held two engagement events. We received 404 responses to our survey and by email, and you can now read an analysis of those responses in our feedback report. We are currently working on updating the concept designs for Highbury Fields to reflect the feedback where possible, and will publish the updated designs on this page in the summer of 2022.

Read the feedback report

Read on to find out more about the proposed improvements that we asked residents to comment on. 

We are proposing to provide

  • a new café building in the northeast corner (adjacent to Highbury Grove) that will house public toilets and a park keeper's office
  • a new wildlife garden and shelter for children to learn about local wildlife (this will be part of phase 2 of the project)
  • improved sports facilities.

As well as making the park more family friendly and accessible for disabled and less mobile people to enjoy, we will also deliver environmental benefits as part of the scheme by:  

  • returning the area taken up by the park keeper's cottage (104m²) to green space. As the proposed café building will be slightly larger than the existing one, this would result in a net gain of 30.9m² of green space
  • reducing electricity consumption by approximately 50 per cent by installing more energy efficient lighting in the sports pitches.

The new building will be as sustainable as possible.

The proposed café building and wildlife garden

Review our design proposals

You can review the design proposals for the café building and wildlife garden at the links below.

Our online engagement events took place on Monday 28 February and Wednesday 2 March. You can view the presentation below - if you have accessibility needs, please contact our Project Manager Lara Ellington-Brown at highburyfieldsimprovement@islington.gov.uk or on 0207 527 6223.

View the presentation

You can also find answers to the questions that residents asked at the events in the 'questions and answers' section. 

What will happen next?

We are further developing the proposals for Highbury Fields, taking into account the feedback we have received.

We will aim to submit a planning application by September 2022 and hope to start works in 2023. As part of the statutory process for planning applications there will be a consultation period where residents and local park users can submit their views to the local planning authority.

If you would like to be kept up to date with the project, please email higburyfieldsimprovement@islington.gov.uk to be added to the project mailing list. 

What has happened so far?

Several buildings on Highbury Fields have been deemed to be of poor quality, and some of them are unsafe. These are: a park keeper’s cottage with outhouse, the building housing the Oasis Café, the bandstand building, two storage containers, a public toilet, and two storage huts by the tennis court.

In 2017, upon consulting with residents and stakeholders, we appointed Levitate Architects to this project. In 2018 a consultation was carried out, asking residents to choose between five options for replacing the existing buildings with either one or two new buildings. 56 per cent of residents chose a single-building option on the west side of the café lawn. Due to a funding shortfall, the project was halted in 2019.

The council has now allocated additional funds to this project. Based on the new budget, we have developed design proposals that incorporate the feedback we have already received from residents by:

  • combining the future café, toilet facilities, and park keeper’s office into a single building
  • preventing a potential loss of green space – and achieving a net gain of 30.9m² of green space – by proposing a smaller building, with a separate open-air shelter
  • preventing a potential loss of views across the park by proposing to locate the building on the site of the existing café, made possible by its smaller size.

 

Upgrading the sports pitches

From January to June 2022, we are making much-needed improvements to the sports facilities on Highbury Fields.

We have:

  • replaced the third-generation carpet and shock pad at the football pitch
  • resurfaced the netball/multi-use games area
  • replaced the floodlights at the tennis courts with energy-efficient LED floodlights.

We will also replace the floodlights at the football pitch and netball/multi-use games area.

These works help deliver state-of-the art facilities for local people to enjoy, while also supporting the council’s aims to make Islington cleaner, greener, and healthier. The new LED floodlights :  

  • use approximately 50% less electricity (the floodlights were already powered by renewable energy)
  • significantly reduce light pollution, thereby removing negative effects on neighbouring properties
  • are reliable and durable, reducing the need for future maintenance visits and pitch closures.

 

Questions and answers about the Highbury Fields proposals

About the project

Why is the council proposing a new café building and wildlife garden on Highbury Fields?

Parks have been key in supporting residents’ physical health, mental wellbeing, and social connections during the Covid-19 pandemic. The council is keen to build on this as part of its ambition to create a cleaner, greener, and healthier borough. In line with this, the planned improvements to the buildings on Highbury Fields will bring significant benefits to residents, park users, and the environment.

Several of the existing buildings on Highbury Fields, including the Oasis Café and Bandstand building, are in need of replacement. Structural reports carried out in 2016 and 2019 have deemed the Bandstand and Oasis Café buildings to be in poor condition and unsafe. They stated that repairs might not be successful in halting further deterioration and would not make it possible to meet today’s need.

The new building – including a café and toilet facilities – will be safe, accessible, and sustainable. The new wildlife garden and shelter will allow stay and play to continue on the park, offering a flexible and Covid-secure environment for children and families, with a range of opportunities for play, development and learning. The proposal would also allow us to achieve a net gain of 30.9m² of green space.

What has happened since the 2018 consultation?

After a public consultation took place in 2018, much work was done listening to stakeholder feedback and considering the project budget. As the council faced significant funding pressures due to central government funding cuts, and a lack of external funding, the decision was taken to pause the scheme in early 2019 until further funding could be allocated.

The council has now been able to allocate additional funding, and we have therefore been able to review the design brief and develop a revised plan. We have taken into account stakeholder feedback and the results of the 2018 consultation, in which residents favoured a single-building option.

How are you taking into account the heritage of the site?

Highbury Fields lies within the Highbury Fields Conservation Area but they do not contain listed buildings or a scheduled monument, and they are not a registered park nor garden. There are a number of listed buildings close to the park, and the lamp posts along Church Path are also locally listed. The relationship to these listed buildings and the impact of the proposals on the significance of their setting will be assessed as part of the planning application.

How are you taking into account environmental considerations?

Highbury Fields is a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, especially because of trees and bats in the area. An updated tree survey was completed in September 2021 and was taken into account in developing the updated design proposals. The new bat surveys are scheduled to take place as soon as the bat surveying season starts in May and June 2022. They will also be taken into account before a planning application is submitted.

Our proposals also take into account the fact that the area is Metropolitan Open Land by reducing the footprint of the building and seeking to minimise adverse impacts on the openness of the land through appropriate building and landscape design.

The new building will utilise energy efficient technologies and sustainable drainage principles wherever possible.

Will there be a loss of views across the park due to the new, larger building?

Our updated designs propose building the new café building on the site of the existing café, rather than the west side of the café lawn as suggested in the 2018 consultation. In response to resident feedback, the building will also be smaller than initially proposed. Both of these factors will help to protect the existing views across the park.

The proposal suggests removing some of the trees to construct the new building. Why is this necessary? 

We may need to remove between two and four smaller trees immediately to the north of the existing café. Sharon Hosegood Associates Ltd completed an updated tree survey in September 2021, which surveyed 91 trees in the area and identified the four trees as being of low landscape value.

The council is committed to putting in place strong measures to offset the impact of any trees lost, for example by rewilding the area of the current park keeper’s cottage and improving overall biodiversity in the park. To this end, Sharon Hosegood Associates will carry out a full arboricultural survey, the results of which will be taken into account before a planning application is submitted, and Land Use Consultants will update the ecological survey initially carried out in 2017. We will also work with the local community and charity partners to develop landscaping plans for the wildlife garden.

Constructing the building on the site of the existing café, as per the new proposal, is the best option as it is less likely to harm trees than building it in alternative locations. This is because the root density beneath the existing building is likely to be lower than in other areas. In addition, the existing memorial trees would be retained.

Can the tennis courts be moved?

The tennis courts were refurbished by the Council in 2015, with some of the funding provided by the Lawn Tennis Association and the Football Foundation. If the tennis courts were moved this soon, the council would need to repay those funds. It has therefore been decided that the tennis courts cannot be moved at this time.

What is going to happen to the old park keeper's bungalow that is currently boarded off?

This building will be demolished as part of the project and the area will be returned to green space.

About the new building

Where is the building going to be located?

The new building is going to be located on the site of the existing Oasis Café.

Why is the building not going to be in the location favoured by residents in the 2018 consultation?

While in 2018 the building was proposed to be on the west side of the café lawn, it has now become possible to offer a single building on the site of the existing café. This is because the building will be smaller than initial plans, reflecting a reduced budget and addressing resident concerns about the impact of a larger building.

There are a range of benefits to this new option, as it allows us to:

  • protect the views across the Fields 
  • maintain the existing play lawn opposite the café 
  • achieve a net gain of 30.9m² of green space
  • retain memorial trees and reduce the risk of harm to them
  • reuse the existing space and below ground services connections.

How much footprint will the building take up? How much footprint will be returned to green space?

The new building will take up 166m². This means it will be approximately half the size of the building proposed in 2018. This addresses resident concerns about a potential loss of views or loss of green space caused by a larger building, and will allow us to achieve a net gain of 30.9m² of green space through the proposed improvements.

How will the proposed building be made accessible?

The new café building will be single storey and step free. It will also contain toilet facilities that better meet the needs of wheelchair and mobility vehicle users, and families. All of the five unisex public toilets will have baby changing facilities, and they will include one wheelchair accessible and one smaller disabled toilet.

In what way will the building be sustainable?

The building will utilise energy efficient technologies and sustainable drainage principles wherever possible. It will also be constructed with materials which are extracted, manufactured and transported in a way that emits low levels of CO₂.

What kind of café will there be?

The exact café offer will be determined by the future café operator. After receiving planning permission for the building, we will conduct a procurement process for an operator. We are working with the council’s Inclusive Economy Team to promote the opportunity to the Islington business community and residents. The tender process will seek to maximise social value from the tenders.

What is going to happen to the Oasis Café?

It has become necessary to demolish the building housing the Oasis Café due to its poor structural condition. The new building, which will include a café, will sit on its site.

We are in conversation with the current operator and will continue to be so throughout this project. There will be a tender process for the management of the café in due course and the council is committed to ensuring that this is fair for all.

The wildlife garden and children's services

Where will the wildlife garden be located? 

The wildlife garden will be located on the site of the existing Bandstand building. This building will be demolished as part of the project and the wildlife garden created within that area. The toddler play lawn opposite the Oasis Café will not be affected. There are no plans to build on this or remove this area.

Will there be children’s services provided on Highbury Fields?

Yes. The council is committed to ensuring that a range of services and activities will take place locally for children under 5 and their families. This will include stay and play sessions (previously provided on Highbury Fields by the One O’Clock Club), forest school, and Saturday groups. The new wildlife garden and shelter will be operated by Bright Start Islington in partnership with voluntary sector organisations such as The Garden Classroom.

What happened to the One O’Clock Club?

Due to the safety concerns around the Bandstand building, it was planned to move the services provided by the One O’Clock Club to a nearby building at Christ Church. Unfortunately, however, the One O’Clock Club stopped operating in December 2020.

After a review of the situation and the impact of Covid, it was decided to continue to provide children’s services at Highbury Fields under the leadership of Bright Start Islington, with a focus on delivering outdoor sessions that encourage children to engage with nature. The Bright Start team are currently working with the council’s Parks Service and voluntary sector partners to develop a programme of activity that will engage families with local wildlife, supporting wellbeing for all.

Will the wildlife garden be accessible to everyone?

The wildlife garden will not be open for public use. However, the programme will include a series of sessions that are open to the public, with a focus on providing activities for young people.

What will the wildlife garden look like?

As part of phase two of the project, we will seek to work with the community, and our charity partner The Garden Classroom, to develop the landscaping plans for the future wildlife garden. If you are interested in working with us on this, please let us know via the survey on this page.

Sports facilities

When will the works on the sports facilities take place?

We have already replaced the third-generation carpet and shock pad at the football pitch, resurfaced the netball/multi-use games area and replaced the floodlights at the tennis courts with energy-efficient LED floodlights. We will also replace the floodlights at the football pitch and netball/multi-use games area as soon as possible.

How will the works impact me? Where can I play tennis / football / netball while the works are being carried out?

While works are taking place, play on the courts may be restricted. There are alternative sports facilities available in Islington and neighbouring boroughs. For example, you can play tennis at the Islington Tennis Centre, Tufnell Park or Rosemary Gardens, or book the astro pitch at Sobell Leisure Centre, Market Road or Paradise Park.

We will do all we can to keep the noise level and other disturbances to a minimum while the works are taking place.

Where does the funding for the sports facilities come from?

The improvements are funded via council capital.

Why have only six out of the 11 tennis courts on Highbury Fields been open in the evenings?

The floodlights at the tennis courts had reached the end of their lifespan and we were no longer able to fix them. As a supply chain issue caused a delay in receiving the new LED bulbs, we had to temporarily close some of the tennis courts for evening bookings.

Who can I contact with questions about the improvements to the sports facilities?

If you have any questions about the improvement works, please contact Bhupesh Thapa at bhupesh.thapa@islington.gov.uk or 07825 098458.

Questions asked at the engagement events

Café building 

Could more of the café’s external seating face the tennis courts? The current proposed layout seems unconnected and the location of the toilets is distracting for tennis players.
The design has tried to balance the line of the footpath and the constraints of the trees, which reduces the amount of space we have for a building. The new building also needs to provide more facilities and therefore has to be bigger.

The location of the toilets is still partly under consideration but we do need to find a balance between them being readily accessible from outside without necessarily putting them at the front of the building where we have limited space available. In terms of the location of the toilets causing a distraction for those playing tennis, we could consider windbreaks and the orientation of the WC doors could be reconsidered as the design develops. 

Are there any plans to include cycle locking facilities next to the café? 
Yes, cycle parking will be considered. There is an opportunity to locate these in the area where the existing park keeper’s office and toilets are. Sufficient cycle parking is something the council will consider as part of the planning permission process. 

How deep are the eaves on the building that protect the seating?
The overhang is approximately 2.5m to allow enough space for seating and a sheltered route to the toilets. As the design is developed we will look at how to bring daylight through as well as providing shelter for seating and access to toilets.

With so much of the outside seating under tree cover is there a worry that it won’t be a very attractive place to sit? 
There will be an ongoing maintenance commitment to cleaning up leaves and making sure the area is an attractive place to sit.

Toilets 

How will you ensure that the toilets are kept clean and don’t smell?
The toilets will be maintained by an on-site park keeper who will ensure they are cleaned regularly. 

Café offer 

Could the café be open for longer hours than it is currently?
We would like the café to support the park as much as possible. At the moment it is open from 8am – 9pm and we will seek to maximise the opening hours opportunity as part of the planning application. 

Will the café opportunity go out to open tender?
Yes. The tender process will be focused on finding an independent operator, whether that is the incumbent or another. Part of the application process will be strongly weighted to see how the provider would benefit the local community.

Wildlife garden 

Is the wildlife garden going to be accessible to the public?
We are looking to increase usage within this space but we want the wildlife garden to have high biodiversity value and this means you do have to be careful with the amount of footfall you have in such a space. 

The idea is that the area will continue to provide a service to children under the age of five as it always has but we will seek to have other groups use it. We recently planted a native hedge and that session was open to the whole community. 

What is the difference between a rain garden and a pond?
A rain garden is a shallow hollow that collects rainwater which then drains away into the soil. It can also be used to slow the flow of rainwater (from roof drainage) into the mains drainage, reducing pressure on drains during heavy rainfall. This means that a rain garden is often dry unless it rains heavily. 

If the wildlife garden is to include a pond, will there be a fence around it?
The whole design, and especially any water feature, would be risk assessed to ensure it was safe. 

Could the garden include a vegetable growing patch? 
We are very interested in including a vegetable growing patch and we are talking to the council’s Nature Conservation Team about how we might be able to achieve this. 

Will dogs be allowed in the wildlife garden?
No, dogs will not be allowed in this area. Dogs are not currently allowed in this part of the Fields and there are no plans to change this. 

Toddler play lawn 

Are there any plans to improve the facilities on the toddler play lawn? Could you improve the table tennis facilities?
This area is outside the scope of the project and we do not have any money in the project budget to include this, but  the Assistant Area Park Manager will look into this. 

A lot of people like to sit on the lawn; is there anything in terms of formal seating planned for this area?
No, this project does not propose including formal seating in this area. However, this is something that can be discussed with the future provider.

Programme and on-site works

How long do you anticipate construction will take? 
The construction of the café building is estimated to take 24 weeks. The construction of the wildlife garden and the teaching shelter is estimated to take between 16 and 20 weeks. The wildlife garden will be delivered as a second phase of the project.

Will there be further consultation on the logistics of the site works to ensure local people are not adversely affected?
Once a timeline for the construction works is ready, residents and park users will be given ample notice. The council is committed to ensuring that appropriate measures are put in place to minimise disruption.   

Will the old park keeper’s lodge become part of the fields?
Yes. The building will be demolished and this area will be returned to green space.

 
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