Whitewebbs and the Spurs deal – financial incompetence, recklessness or what?

Let us look closely at the Spurs deal:

THL (Spurs/ENIC) will pay £500,000 upfront and then, after 5 years, start paying £75,000 a year rental for a 150 acre estate. A few years ago Whitewebbs Park was valued at about £16million pounds.

The Council is treating  the £500,000 as capital, which can be spent on improving the park infrastructure – footpaths, the bridleways, fences etc.

But it is not capital – it is like one of us saying I am going to earn £150,000 over the next five years so I am going to spend all of it now using the credit card to buy a new Mercedes. Unfortunately  I won’t have any income for the next five years so will not be able to buy petrol, insurance, servicing, food or housing.

The £500,000 is just an advance on income – a sub

Councillors will want to spend it on attractive projects that will look good in photo opportunities.

They will forget the running costs, repairs, maintenance provision for replacement – let the next administration take care of that, they will have moved on and left accountability behind them.

The promises – both are from the Spurs  prospectus but referenced by the Council

promise 1

The first seems to suggest that all the work will be done by Spurs for the whole park – but read on

promise 2

The second paragraph suggests that the work on the council land will be paid for from the £500,000 paid by Spurs to the council “the Club’s financial consideration for its lease on the site.”

Upgrades and investment to the statutory footpaths and bridleways….. damaged timber fencing … signs… . This work is expensive.

The bridleways are in a poor state, most of the fencing has fallen down or is about to fall down. The surface is poor and badly drained. Only the North  South sections of the bridleways are “statutory”.

There are no statutory footpaths in the Spurs lease area, just a few short lengths of permissive paths.

Over half the 4kms of bridleway and almost all the permissive footpaths are in the area being retained by the Council. The footpaths are in a very poor state, especially in winter. Using a 2019  Scottish Government guide to the cost of paths and fences I came up with a figure of about £350,000 to bring the bridleways, fencing and some footpaths up to a reasonable standard. To this has to be added VAT where applicable, allowance for inflation, higher London costs, and Council central admin costs (These can be very high – see dispute over golf course costings). These would bring the total costs to well over £500,000

And, of course, there would be no income for general maintenance, repairs, litter  removal, woodland maintenance and environmental management for the first  five years.

The £75,000 from year 6 onwards might possibly cover general running costs but with no provision for major maintenance (wooden fences last about 10-15 years, paths need resurfacing. Look at the dual use path in Hilly Fields for evidence of this.)

Add this  into the equation

“The leader of the Council, Cllr Nesil Caliskan said    (note “these proposals” = the bid from Spurs)

Quoted in the Marketing update

To turn an average £80,000 annual  income into £100,000 annual expenditure on sport and improve and maintain the park infrastructure would be a miraculous achievement on a par with the loaves and fishes (or just appalling maths)

This whole “Marketing of Whitewebbs Park” is a display of incompetence on a grand scale by the officers and councillors. As was pointed out at the time  the whole  concept and process was fundamentally flawed. The consultation with the Community was a disgrace to democracy and the financial returns to the people of Enfield are pitiful. Just as we realise the full value of our open spaces after COVID  the Council effectively privatises one of our prize natural assets at a give away price.

Did anyone at the Civic Centre trouble to work out what capital and income was needed to revitalise the park’s infrastructure and maintain this to a high level so that all could use and enjoy it?

But a multi billion dollar offshore company will do exceedingly well out of the deal and will end up with its very own country estate in Enfield at minimal cost. Spurs will, no doubt, be delighted by the deal.

If this could not be got right what hope is there for the rest of council finances?

The Best arrangement for Enfield residents

The Council has closed the Golf Course and can no longer  make the argument that it is losing money. (The prime reason for marketing Whitewebbs)

The best approach for Enfield would be to  retain the park as it is but upgrade the café and community facilities at Beggars Hollow.  A mix of long lease commercial café with non profit community facilities would fit the bill. The old golf course buildings and yard could be leased out to a suitable business. This would generate  more income than is being offered by Spurs / ENIC

If  Spurs has to be accommodated this would be a better and fairer deal for Enfield

Lease of land for THL—THL has already built a women’s facility on their existing site which has yet 23/4/22  to receive a planning approval decision.
Lease up to 4 hectares of land from the NE corner of Whitewebbs for  up to 4 pitches.  No buildings on Whitewebbs land, with access via existing Spurs ground.

Allow diversion of Bridleway  along southern and western boundaries of  this area.  Boundary to be marked by secure fencing screened by trees and  suitable vegetation not  ugly great walls of earth.

Premium  £2,000,000 with annual payments of £200,000 inflation adjusted starting year 1 through to year 25.
A bond to cover restoration after 25 years.

 Finance for the park

1. Premium to be spent on capital construction of new community facilities and refurbishment of  existing  facilities—footpaths, bridleway improvement, demarcated cycle way through the park,  play areas, lake refurbishment, toilet blocks., environmental study facilities for schools / adults with community rooms for hire.

2. Annual rental from THL to  be allocated to maintenance of the above and any normal  park management e.g grass cutting, woodland maintenance

3. Income from  other park based sources e.g. café, rental of the old golf course buildings and yard and rental from Whitewebbs House to be similarly allocated to  park improvement and maintenance.

4. Grants and funding to be sought for specific new projects and activities

Sean Wilkinson

An open letter to Enfield Councillors regarding the Spurs bid

An open letter to all councillors before the Scrutiny Committee meeting  17th November 2021

A copy of this letter was sent to all Enfield Councillors

The Scrutiny Committee is making a decision on Whitewebbs Park on Thursday Evening.

This decision is important and will affect the reputation of the Borough, The Council, the advising Officers and the Councillors  for decades to come.

The question for you is simple – do we

  1. Sell off (“lease”) 150 acres of unique parkland to a multi billion dollar offshore based company (ENIC) for a derisory amount of money  OR
  2. Look at other feasible ways of getting more income from the park, retaining it as open space for current and future generations and living up to our commitments to the environment, nature and climate action?

The Facts: (as they have been made public)

  1. The bid will provide LBE with a total income of £2 million over 25 years. £500,000 as an initial payment with nothing more to pay for 5 years.  Thereafter there will be an annual payment of £75,000 for 20 years.
  2. For this  Spurs / ENIC will get control of 150 acres of parkland which includes the 100 acre golf course, the Lake area and gardens, part of the woodland, all the main entrances and the car parks.
  3. What commitments has Spurs/ENIC made? Very little  that does not directly benefit  Spurs/ENIC or will be self financing.
    1. Restore the bridleway along the North Side of their football area – this will be part of their  security/ boundary construction programme anyway.
    1. Wildlife corridor – next to the northern boundary and includes wetland / woodland that can’t be used for anything else.
    1. Restore the southern part of the golf course to 19th Century parkland and plant some trees. It is already 19th Century parkland with a very large  number and variety of trees.
  • Cut grass paths through the grassland – once or twice a year, a day’s work with a grass cutter.
    • Plant some wildflowers around the plastic pitches.
    • Improving footpaths on the leased area – well this depends on which map you go by and the exact boundaries. (Two significantly different maps are in the committee papers)
    • “Subject to planning permission” improved café facilities and toilets. Self financing with a healthy margin of profit if managed properly.

Biodiversity, biodiversity and Climate action

  1. The designers of the course in the 1930s did a very good job of using the existing landscape and planted many trees and shrubs to enhance the natural look. The course is rich in tree species, bats, birdlife, insects, wildflowers and a wide variety of grasses. In fact, it looks like 19th Century parkland. The maintenance team retained the natural features and vegetation.
  2. The land designated for football pitches is not flat or level. There is a 10 metre drop between the highest and lowest parts. Huge quantities of earth will have to be bulldozed – maybe 100,000 cu metres or more. In addition  thousands of cu metres of sand, gravel, soil and other construction material  will have to be brought in by truck.
  3. A quarter of the pitches will be Astroturf, The rest will be  hybrid grass with plastic reinforcement. These pitches will contribute nothing to biodiversity. Construction and plastic reinforcement will do nothing for climate improvement and will have an adverse effect on  carbon reduction.
  4. The destruction of the 40 acres+ of mixed grassland and some established trees will deprive wildlife of feeding areas affecting birdlife, bats, birds of prey, insects and small mammals.

  • Contrary to opinions expressed within the council offices this is not an engineered landscape.

    This is an engineered landscape and this is what will be built.
  • It is possible and worrying that the people making the recommendations for Whitewebbs Park have little or no practical knowledge of it. This may be a product of staff shortage, staff turnover, pressure of time but this is no excuse for destruction of a beautiful landscape.
  • Over 80 species of bird were recorded in 2020 as were 8 species of bat. We have reports and evidence of foxes, adders, freshwater molluscs, stag beetles, muntjac and, very rarely, roe deer, rabbits, dragon flies, damsel flies, a wide variety of butterflies, many wildflowers, buzzards, hawks  …………. An enormous list.

This park was bought for the people of Enfield 90 years ago so that they could enjoy recreation in a large open space. There was provision for community sport – a cricket pitch, tennis courts and a public golf course. The conditions were that when these were no longer needed the land would be returned to public open space for all to use. I challenge anyone who does not know the park  to find the cricket pitch – it has rewilded.
When it was decided to close the golf course Cllr Yusuf asked the Leader if the land would be open to all to walk on and enjoy. The Leader assured him that it would be and put no time limit on this nor any conditions. (Scrutiny Committee meeting to consider the decision to close the Golf Course) This statement was in keeping with the provisions of the original 999 year lease.

The initial reason given for the marketing of the golf course (and the ancient woodland) was that it was losing money. The figures are disputed but we will let that pass. The course offered  low cost sport and recreation to the public – old, young, male, female, trans with no restriction. Running costs were more or less covered, especially during the pandemic. The new facility will be restricted to a very narrow group of players.

When the decision was made to close the course in March 2021 the reason given for the marketing exercise was dead. There was no longer any valid reason for continuing, There was no longer a loss of money. Whitewebbs was no more a burden on the citizens of Enfield than any other park. In fact, with the income from the café and the social golf club not to mention the Carvery it was helping to pay for itself.

 The Human Value of Whitewebbs

Whitewebbs is part of the sweep of open spaces and gardens from the A10 through to Cockfosters and beyond – Capel Manor, playing fields, Myddelton House, Forty Hall, Hilly Fields and Trent Park. Local small parks provide day to day rest and enjoyment  but the Green Belt provides, for all residents, space and the freedom to walk longer distances and experience space and nature at its best and in different forms. This is why Whitewebbs Park was bought for the people 90 years ago, for their physical and mental well-being.

Why voting to progress the bid is a bad idea:

  1. By any objective standard this is a lousy deal for Enfield. The money is derisory and  will not cover the cost of desired outcomes for the park. It will barely be enough to cover basic maintenance let alone the more ambitious spending ideas.
  2. Spurs, a wholly owned subsidiary of an offshore, tax haven based, multi billion dollar corporation, can afford to buy land for their projects anywhere. It is not a struggling local amateur club in need of support. Whitewebbs just happens to be a convenience for them.
  3. The commitments we have seen in the council and THFC documents are so weak that they cannot be taken seriously. The Council has, by its own admission,  a feeble  record of lease enforcement.
  4. It is clear that THFC/ENIC has ambitious plans for the land. However, there are no financial or contractual incentives for Spurs/ENIC to maintain or enhance park use. Quite the opposite in fact. It will probably buy up the long lease on Whitewebbs House, enclose much of the area around it for privacy and security and turn it into a hotel/ hospitality facility for players and  visitors. The lease will be renegotiated  and In 10 years time Whitewebbs Park will be a private estate and lawyers will negotiate a long lease or even a freehold sale.

If you vote for this bid, your legacy will a lost park, a damaged landscape and betrayed community.

There is a good alternative:

  1. Lease  the café and old golf club building for 25 years to an experienced and enterprising business type. Good cafes and function /community rooms can be lucrative if handled properly. I have seen small park cafes in London parks going for £35,000 a year.
  2. Lease out the old golf course buildings, yard, car parking and storage to business users.

This will generate more income than the Spurs offer and retain the park for the community.

Sean Wilkinson

Friends of Whitewebbs Park

The scrutiny committee voted along party lines to support the bid