A flawed commercial proposal.

The proposals for  Whitewebbs Park – a commercially flawed and damaging proposal.

  1. A council document KD Num:4849 gives the reasons for marketing a 25 year lease for the Whitewebbs Golf Course.  The extent of the Golf Course is clearly  delimited on the maps prepared by Enfield’s Asset Information Team. There is a clear line between the golf course and the rest of Whitewebbs Park. There is no mention in  KD Num:4849 of the rest of the park.  I have not seen the justification for including the woodland area in this leasing proposal.
  2. While the golf course can be described as a commercial venture the recreational woodland can not. It is a park, just like Forty Hall, Broomfield, Arnos, Grovelands, Trent and all the others in the borough and no one is planning to privatise the management and development of these, to my knowledge.
  3. Regrettably, businesses are not geared up  to manage recreational, publicly accessible  woodland. Business in the UK is geared up for short term profits especially when working within a 25 year lease. Short term commercial benefit will always override long term  community benefit. Otherwise, there would be no need for the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, National Parks, the Forestry Commission, tree preservation orders and municipal parks. Dare one refer to what is happening on a far vaster scale in the Amazon? Whitewebbs  Park is registered by the Forestry Commission as “Ancient and semi natural woodland”
    Any company taking over Whitewebbs Woods would take out the valuable timber, calling it “thinning” or “forestry management” and leave the land to fend for itself. There are at least  25 trees in Whitewebbs marked discreetly with  blue paint. They are all tall straight oaks close to the bridleway and, therefore, accessible  by vehicle. This may be a coincidence but mature tall straight oak trees are commercially valuable. They could repeat the process in 200 years time. It takes about 50 years of careful management for deciduous woodland to start making a financial return.  On a 25 year lease  it is going to be no more than asset stripping.  Of course, some vandal might want to replace the ancient woodland with Christmas tree production.
    It may be argued that  lease conditions  will be strict but the officers and councillors responsible for drawing up these documents will probably be long gone before the lease is even half way through its life. The same could be true of the company owners / directors who agreed the deal. The lease details must be published and accessible if the park is to be protected .
  4. The Golf Course, while it is a valuable aid to  both mental and physical fitness, could be described as a business. Business advisors I have contacted tell me that a 25 year lease is too short a period for there to be sound development and long term investment. Long term capital investment is most unlikely, particularly in the uncertain world of sports facilities. Golf is  suffering more than most with many courses closing. A brief survey of  golf courses for sale in the south of England shows that they can be purchased, with full facilities such as  function rooms, dining capability, changing rooms, showers, bars and parking for less than a four bedroomed house in some parts of Enfield.
    Short term profits will be the order of the day – landscaping with landfill (who is going to check every one of 17,500  20 tonne trucks?) There will be enormous pressure, salami style, for some release of  “just a few acres” for housing land. Once the short term profits have been made, distributed to share holders and consultants, we will be left with a golf course no better, possibly worse, than before and the development company will have quietly gone into voluntary liquidation.
    Whitewebbs Park and Golf Course are not going to be generators of huge sums of money, at least not for the Council and the ratepayers.
  5. Whitewebbs is accessible only by car for the vast majority of potential users. Yes, there is an hourly bus service but not on Sundays. The assertion in the Knight Frank prospectus that Crews Hill and Gordon Hill stations provide suitable access points is surely a joke. If the park and any new sports facilities generate many more visitors the green space they have come to enjoy will have to be covered  by a lot more tarmac for car parking.
  6. In summer that park is beautiful, in winter it is used by the hardiest – dedicated golfers, keen runners and dog walkers. The land is muddy, paths are waterlogged and the Beggars Hollow car park is icy. To many of us it is still beautiful.
  7. Developers could replace golf with a range of other activities – a massive investment would be required but Enfield is actually well supplied with easily accessible facilities. Playing fields, formal and informal abound, there are  multi use /  basketball courts in Tuckers (North Enfield Recreation ground) the Town Park and others, there are free to use tennis courts; school playing fields can be and are hired; netball courts, athletics tracks, swimming pools, fitness facilities and of course the private commercial centres such as David Lloyds are all readily accessible. All these are close to population centres and easy to get to by public transport. It may be that indoor facilities for younger people are not adequate but the difficult to get to Whitewebbs is not the place for them. There is little commercial point in  setting up another  “Go Ape” in the borough and the park is unsuited to massive  music events and shows.
  8. What should happen at Whitewebbs? In the park we have well over 100 acres of mature woodland, we have an adequate golf course with an average of over 25000 rounds of golf played annually, we have the Toby Carvery, we have a golf club that has some sort of relationship with the course but is a private club and occupies a building  in a poorish state, we have some public toilets, a bridleway for riders, car parking and a slightly upgraded version of a burger van for refreshments. The refreshment facility pays a rental of £10,000 p.a. and is on a very short lease. No sensible business person is going to invest heavily in good  facilities when on a short lease, it is unreasonable to expect that.  Despite its shortcomings the café is a vital part of the Whitewebbs community. Hundreds use it every week to meet up, socialise, relax and refresh themselves after a walk or half way round the golf course.
    The golf club and the Toby Carvery are  part of the park and I don’t know what contribution they make to the council’s budget. They are users of the park, even it is just enjoying the setting and ambience. To disregard any financial contribution they make is unfair to the park, just as it would be to exclude the rental for the café  from the park accounts.
    The figures in the Knight Frank prospectus  show that the Golf Course runs at a small loss. Every Golf Club includes income from function hire, catering and bar sales in their overall income. The golf course is trying hard to  build business and lower costs in a very competitive market. The figures show  that the losses are small, equivalent to a cup of coffee or tea per round. Weather conditions and equipment purchase affect income and expenditure. Setting the modest café rental against the losses would have  made the course break even for two of the last three years. The café is on land designated as part of the golf course. It is unreasonable to expect the Golf Course to break even within these restrictions.
    A way forward would be  to offer a 25 year lease to an enterprising and enthusiastic café owner  who would provide good facilities for all users of the park. With the right lease terms, he or she would invest in the business, pay  a much higher rent (or percentage of takings) to the Council. A community hub or hall could be provided, catering for a wide range of activities, children’s parties, puppy training, wildlife clubs, art exhibitions, Golf Club functions ……….. . There could be pop up shops for special events. The more attractive the facility, the more people will use it, the greater will be the income. Providing a children’s play area would attract many more families.
  9. Whitewebbs Park and the Golf Course are important to the physical wellbeing of us all. We are all being reminded of what we have to do  to preserve and protect our planet. Whitewebbs is important to the physical and mental well being of the Enfield citizens who use the park. It is a place where the very young can experience nature and where the more mature can rebuild themselves with fresh air, tranquility and calm social interaction with friends and new acquaintances.
  10. Please check the comments page to see the views of others who have added their views to the site. Please add your comments and please spread the word  through social media, personal contact and by contacting your ward councillors.

2 thoughts on “A flawed commercial proposal.”

  1. The Council has shared the following information on its website

    The Council has carried out a marketing exercise to assess interest in investing in Whitewebbs to ensure the future viability of the golf course and/or deliver alternative leisure proposals.

    The Council has now received 18 expressions of interest. Our agents are currently assessing these against the criteria.

    The proposals include a number that propose retention of golf; some propose reducing the course to 9-holes; some propose adding driving ranges or other complementary facilities.

    Other proposals do not include golf but propose other leisure uses and/or re-wilding of the landscape, nature or wildlife reserves and other woodland pursuits.

    None of the proposals involve clearing the site to create a landfill as has been suggested by some parties.

    Some of the proposals would involve the import of soil to remodel the golf course, for example, and as part of our assessment we would consider the scale, suitability and impact of those proposals in the context of delivering a viable and acceptable proposal. Any proposal based simply on importing soil would not be considered acceptable.

    The next stage is to assess the proposals and take planning advice on some of them. We will then go back to bidders with enhanced criteria and a number of additional questions (which we will share openly) to enable them to submit final proposals and for us to eliminate any that do not meet the criteria.

    The intention is to draw up a short list. We will engage with members and stakeholders at that stage before selecting a preferred partner.

    Any preferred proposal is likely to require planning consent and we will ensure there is wide consultation prior to an application being lodged. In addition to consultation any planning application will require a number of assessments to address any perceived impact of the proposal. These will need to comply with the Environmental Impact assessment regulations.

    We will be issuing a more detailed communication following the General Election about the process and how we will engage with residents, no decisions will be made in the meantime.

    The following groups were engaged prior to the marketing:-

    • The Friends of Whitewebbs Park,
    • The Friends of Hilly Fields
    • The Greenbelt Forum,
    • Whitewebbs Golf Club
    • Whitewebbs Golf Club Users

    1. Thanks to Mark Bradbury for this response. It is the standard response that we have all been getting. A copy of the response was placed on the “Action” page of this site a couple of weeks ago together with some detailed comments. I would note that the minutes of the July Green Belt Forum indicate that only the Golf Course was being considered for leasing. No mention was made of the ancient woodland
      Sean Wilkinson

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