Feryal Clark’s tweet
“I have also had many emails regarding the Whitewebbs Golf Course. I was pleased to see the Council have now issued a press release on the future of Whitewebbs Golf Course after misinformation was spreading online about the site being used for housing or landfill. Following years of making a financial loss, despite measures to improve its situation, the council are exploring options for the Golf Course. With the pandemic also putting significant pressure on the Council, they can no longer justify using taxpayers’ money to keep the Golf Course running. They are undertaking a procurement process to determine the future of the Golf course. I was pleased to see that the council had made it clear they want applications to meet the needs of the local community and any proposed use of the site to increase community access to Whitewebbs for walking, recreation, leisure, and other uses.”
Dear Feryal Clark
I was unhappy to see the text of your recent tweet (above) regarding Whitewebbs Golf Course.
I remember noting at a hustings meeting for the general election that you had been badly briefed about the necessity to continue leasing out the golf course at Whitewebbs. This was untrue and that was confirmed at a public meeting by the Director of Property and Economy.
I realise that you are extremely busy and have to rely on others for information upon which to base your statements.
Your recent tweet indicates that the briefing from whoever has been limited, partial and misleading.
The story is long and complicated so I will try to keep it as short as possible.
Promised Consultation – none
- There has been no meaningful Council consultation with the public, certainly none initiated by the Council.
- Early pre- marketing discussions with the Green Belt Forum indicated that only the golf course was to be “marketed”. This was changed at the last minute to be golf course, parkland and ancient woodland.
- Public notification in the park was limited to one A4 poster on a seldom used noticeboard in the 240 acre park.
- Assurance have been given about consultation. This one from Mark Bradbury December 9, 2019 at 3:09 pm
- “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.”
- All the initiatives for public discussion have come from users and supporters of the park. At a well attended Green Belt Forum unsuccessful attempts were made to limit discussion. At the meeting senior officers and councillors conceded that the scheme had been mishandled and that there would be consultations with “stakeholder “ groups.
- “Once all bids are in the Council will engage with public Stakeholder Groups (The Woodland Group had been added to this list and Mark Bradbury encouraged other stakeholder groups to come forward)) to obtain their views and input. Local residents are also encouraged to share what they would like to see at Whitewebbs so that this can inform the decision-making process.”
- The Chair thanked Mark for his interesting update along with residents for their engagement, comments and input. He suggested that if procurement rules allowed, the preferred bidders be asked to present their proposals to the public Stakeholder Groups to allow an informed decision to be made. Minutes of Green Belt Forum
- Subsequently the Green Belt Forum was abandoned and replaced by an existing group principally concerned with the built environment. The recommendation from the Chair was not followed up.
- The park supporters organised a petition which gained more than enough signatures for us to address a council meeting. The Leader of the Council agreed to consultation with stakeholder groups at the short listing stage for bidders. This was recorded a little ambiguously in the minutes.
- We were encouraged by the Deputy Leader to recruit stakeholders and these were registered with the Council. They represent park users, youth organisations, the woodland and various environmental and wildlife organisations of good standing.
- To the best of our knowledge there has been no consultation with the stakeholder groups. Individuals and the Friends of Whitewebbs have written to Mark Bradbury about concerns as information has dribbled out but this is not consultation.
Moving goal posts – attempts have been made to make alterations to the marketing process.
- Access – “current level of public access across the park to be maintained”. At one point this was revised to “rights of way” of which there are none save for two sections of the bridleway. After a challenge Mark Bradbury assured us that access by all the formal and informal pathways would be retained. This has yet to be made explicit on the Council website. Clear maps and standards of maintenance are required.
- Status of the Park. Whitewebbs Park was bought for the people of Enfield by an enlightened council in 1931. One hundred or so acres were subsequently laid out as a public golf course. The golf course was part of the park. The Council in its latest publications asserts that the 140 acres of ancient woodland and park areas are part of the golf course (or adjacent land as it was dismissively referred to in the marketing material). The OS map shows all 240 acres as Whitewebbs Park Country Park.
- There is much debate and scepticism about the accounts presented. It is apparent that all sorts of costs can be assigned to match a particular viewpoint. Depreciation and central costs can be adjusted at will. The business model for the course has been kept as unviable by past and current administrations. No course survives on “green fees” (the charge for playing a game). Bar takings, function room hire, shop and café /restaurant all contribute to a viable business model. Whitewebbs has to manage on green fees, a small shop and a vending machine.
- This course provides affordable play for the average earner and less well off. There are concessions for pensioners and significantly lower rates for off peak times. Players do not have to pay expensive membership fees.
- There is a Golf Club but it is a relic of the past. It is a private social club with no role in the running of the course. It rents the old club house at the southern end of the course. The vast majority of golf rounds are played by “pay and play” members of the general public.
Effects of closing the course taken from Portfolio report on closing the golf course. 10th March
Environment and climate change considerations.
- “..will reduce vehicle trips” If you close a local golf course so that golfers have to drive further to other courses how on earth does that decrease carbon emissions? Who came up with that idea?
- Contrary to the view of those who have never visited the course, the land is a diverse mix of grasses, hedgerows, shrubs, wild flowers, water courses and a wide variety of tree species. Birds abound, including hawks and other predators as well as flying insects. Sometimes during the day but more often at night foxes, deer and smaller mammals abound. There are bat colonies on the course and around the margins. The open spaces are their feeding ground. The course provides biological corridors between Forty Hall and Whitewebbs Woods. While we fully support the planting of more trees in appropriate areas there is a strong case for a mix of woodland and open areas when encouraging biodiversity.
- Let us not forget that it takes skill and experience to maintain a golf course. The skill, pride and livelihood of the groundstaff are at risk.
Equalities impact of the closure
- Let us be absolutely clear about this course. It is not a club with membership fees. It is a good course, not up to championship standards, but good enough for the workaday player. It survives on green fees, no bar or function rooms. The fees are low compared with others in the area. There are substantial concessions for the senior citizens. Off peak twilight times offer the less well off the opportunity to play at very reasonable rates.
- This Council has, without consultation and on uncertain figures, stopped the less advantaged on pensions, student loans and low income from having 3 hours of healthy, sociable, mind mending physical activity. Those on £100,000+ salaries will be fine if they want to play, not the ordinary citizen.
- The Officers blithely assert “There are several other courses in the borough …… that offer opportunities for golfers and prospective golfers to enjoy the sport.” This is a nonsense. The demand for golf in the area is high and capacity has fallen. Trent Park (A public course) has abandoned all concessionary rates. I understand that there is a month long waiting list for tee off times already. The private clubs that offer a limited amount of pay and play (peak periods reserved for £1400+ a year members) charge £35 to £50 a round and can require that you go round in a foursome, so you need well-off friends. Currently, I believe, the golf clubs are not permitting pay and play as demand from members is so high.
Throwing away money
- The timing of the closure is mystifying. After the first lockdown period income from the golf course went up 80% on the previous year, month for month. This was dismissed as “ a temporary situation where existing golfers made up for lost rounds during lockdown.” No evidence to support this statement was provided. It is now clear, however, that this is not a temporary situation. We are in a second post lockdown period where the vast majority will be holidaying at home. It is also likely that we will not be back to “normal” for months if not years. Patterns of work and leisure have changed, perhaps for good. Based on last year’s figures the golf course could expect a cash income of £200,000 to £300,000+ over the next 6 months. Is the Council so flush with money that this can be disregarded?
- At the very least the excess of cash income over wages and running costs could be used to upgrade paths and facilities in the rest of the park.
- There are clear reasons for keeping the course open at least until winter, why then is this pre-emptive move being made?
The golf course has been an integral part of the park and of the “Marketing “ process. This decision to close it has been made in isolation from consideration of the future of the whole park without any consultation whatsoever. We were also told that no decisions would be made about the park until after the “Blue and Green” strategy consultation process was complete.
Mark Bradbury’s letter to Chase Ward
I was very surprised to see that Mark Bradbury had written to all households in the Chase ward just before the election Purdah period. I have no doubt that you have seen it so these are just a few comments. Some are repeats of what is above.
It appears to be a re-iteration of points, denying things that have not been issues such as landfill and housing. Nobody has referred to land fill, except Council officers since just after the botched marketing process began. It arose as an issue because the marketing material referred to the possibility of using 200,000 cu metres of “inert material” (almost any old building rubbish) for landscaping. While the inert material has been changed to “soil” there has been no absolute denial that this quantity of landscaping material could be permitted – approx 17000 lorry loads. There have been all sorts of social media allegations but these stem from the wall of secrecy surrounding this long and drawn out process. The council has no-one to blame but itself. It keeps the issue alive by constant denials – perhaps a case of “ … doth protest too much”
Freehold / Leasehold. Once the land has gone whether by freehold or leasehold it has gone from public control.
This Council, by its own admission, has an appalling record of not enforcing the terms of leases.(Green Belt Forum) Those responsible for drawing up the leases and approving them will be long gone by the time the lease is up for renewal. No accountability.
“The woodlands will continue to be protected” and the rest of the park?
The Golf Course has made a loss – This depends on how the Council assigns overheads, central costs and depreciation. The business model for the golf course which is unlike other golf courses ensures a “loss”. What is the income from the Carvery lease, the café lease, the social club lease? How could these be better managed to generate income for the park.
Mark Bradbury makes a political point comparing the cost of social workers and care costs with his notional costs of the golf course. Has he costed in the health benefits both mental and physical of the 25,000 rounds of golf played on the course every year. The activity probably greatly reduces the need for social workers and care costs.
The maths of the comparison need a closer look. His £1 Million cost of 22 full-time social workers is over 1 year. But the 1 million “loss” is over 5 years. This suggests that a full-time social worker costs the Council (salary/Employers NIC/all other costs) £9,900 per year. This equates to each social worker being paid less than £5 per hour, an amount far below the minimum wage.
The closure of the golf course is going to cost Enfield £200,000 to £300,000 plus this year in cash green fees at a time when other courses will be jam packed and the demand for golf is at a high. Look at the figures for the post lockdown period last year – income up 80%
The point about 135 golf club members is totally irrelevant and misleading. Whitewebbs is not a membership club charging over £1000 a year for membership. It is a public pay and play course for ordinary people who don’t want the rigmarole of posh private clubs. Costs of playing are substantially lower than at neighbouring clubs offering pay and play.
What alternate leisure activities on this site are going to generate income? Jogging?
Chair of the Friends of Whitewebbs park