CEO Enfield Council
5th April 2021
Dear Mr Davis
Formal Complaint regarding the marketing and development of Whitewebbs Park
The Friends of Whitewebbs Park (approx. 200 members) represent the concerns of many who live in Enfield, value the park and enjoy its great heritage, biodiversity and health benefits.
Since the council began its attempt to monetarise Whitewebbs, we have encountered nothing but confusion, misdirection, and gross misrepresentation that our councillors have been unable to resolve on our behalf.
In particular the Council has failed serially on commitments to consult and take into account the wishes of the vastly increasing numbers who use the park.
The most recent notice issued by Mark Bradbury, Director of Property and Economy, to all the households of the Chase Ward represents a low point in this saga.
His letter has disturbed residents and dismayed the many who would like to believe the standards claimed by this council actually have meaning.
If LBE wishes to monetise Whitewebbs it should put it to the people openly, not conceal their real intent by delay, secrecy and obfuscation.
We are signalling that we have no reason to have faith in LBE to control any possible tenant because of the council’s past record and its refusal to transparently publish the bids for Whitewebbs Park. Hiding behind the cloak of “commercial confidentiality” and “procurement rules” is unreasonable, oppressive and counterproductive.
Positive Enhancement Prospects
The Friends may be in favour of improvements to the park that will enhance its character and enable more people to enjoy its unique environment. But, the nature of these is best understood by the thousands of park users, not a few senior councillors and officials who barely know the park.
Pending meaningful, open and honest consultations we now enter a formal complaint with the expectation that these matters are put into competent hands and managed openly with regard to the council’s democratic duties towards residents.
We respectfully remind the Council and its officers that they are custodians of a public park not private property magnates.
We request an assurance that in regard to Whitewebbs Park no deals or leases will be entered into until promises of consultation made by Officers and Councillors are fully delivered.
We submit it is in the borough’s interest to suspend the marketing process until the Council, in good faith, meets its commitments both in the spirit and the letter to hold full, transparent and meaningful consultation with all stakeholders.
The specific intention being to incorporate public opinion into the formation of policy towards this park.
By reneging on promised consultation and by premature closures the Council has given credence to the widely held belief that it has already made or is about to make a decision without honouring its commitment to consultation.
The process to date appears to have been a means to delay inspection of the council’s plans so that the people of Enfield are excluded from the democratic process leaving the decision in the hands of two or three councillors and a few senior officers most of whom do not live in the borough and who will not have to live with the consequences of their recommendations.
The golf course has been closed but we have been given no reason other than recourse to a much-disputed claim of £1.1m accumulated loss for the last 5 years.
Mr Bradbury’s note was also couched in such political terms with comparisons to other social claimants as to cause disbelief amongst residents.
We do not accept the claims for loss until we see a detailed breakdown, acceptable to a competent accountant, stripping overheads allocated, taxes and other imposts, leaving the net operating costs. We find no cause for LBE to deny such information.
Furthermore the insistence that there is no demand for golf in this area, and that the borough is fully supplied with golf facilities, is a baseless claim unsustainable and unprovable.
There has been no evidence presented that a publicly accessible sports facility appropriate to the green belt in this location will offer better prospects than the current facility. The current facility has been restricted by successive administrations to a business model that is bound to struggle.
- From the initial poster that was issued by the council:
The Council are consulting with the Friends of Whitewebbs Park throughout the project, to ensure that park users views are represented and the best outcomes for local people are achieved.
- This has not happened. The Friends of Whitewebbs have sought information but this is not consultation.
- Explicit assurances have been given about consultation. This one from Mark Bradbury, Director of Property and Economy December 9, 2019
- “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 (15th January 2020) 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
- “We accept the marketing literature and early communications have not helped with the concerns the public have held…. (Mark Bradbury)
- Subsequently the Green Belt Forum was abandoned its agenda lost and replaced by an existing group principally concerned with the built environment. The recommendation from the Green Belt forum was not followed up.
- The park supporters organised a petition which gained more than enough signatures for us to address a council meeting. (26th February 2020) The Leader of the Council agreed to consultation with stakeholder groups at the short-listing stage for bidders. This was recorded somewhat ambiguously in the minutes. We request an independent verbatim transcript from the unedited video recording of the meeting.
- 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 Trust 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 his response cannot be considered consultation.
- A decision was made not to re-open the Golf Course on 29th March 2021. This decision, which has major implications for the future of the whole park, was made with no official notice and no consultation with users and other interested stakeholders. This adoption of a “salami style” approach to the park’s development is not worthy of an honourable and democratic authority.
- There has been more than one attempt to portray the park and ancient woodland as part of the golf course whereas the reverse is true. Officers have attempted to rewrite history.
- There has been an apparent attempt to restrict access to rights of way. We have been led to believe, after challenge, that this is not the case but the latest marketing update could and should be much more explicit. We are alert to restrictions in access across the site. We draw your attention to the definition of “access” in our response to the Blue and Green consultation.
- The Chase Ward councillors were supposed to be present as observers at the short-listing evaluation process. This represents an essential role as they would be the only people present with any democratic accountability This has not, we understand, been the case. As no information or guidance has been relayed back to us by councillors from their confidential access to the bidding process, we must assume this assurance too has not been met.
- “A final decision on the future of Whitewebbs will therefore not be taken ahead of the engagement on the Blue Green Strategy.” 10th December 2020. (Mark Bradbury)
Has the Blue Green Strategy engagement been completed or is this one more delaying tactic without substance?
- There is a widespread belief that a decision as to the future of the park has already been made without consultation, contrary to many promises by senior officers and councillors.
The premature closure of the golf course serves only to give support to this belief. We serve notice that if this has occurred we will use all means to get this called-in and debated openly when all the misrepresentations of previous months will weigh in the balance, and be seen in full by the public.
You will understand that public trust in this process is, owing to officers’ misrepresentations, very low, something a council valuing its reputation would wish to resolve.
- We have grave reservations about the letter to all households in the Chase Ward sent out by Mark Bradbury just before the “Purdah” period a timing surely with no operational purpose other than to preclude public examination and influence.
Our justified suspicions are enhanced by the deliberate distortions and misrepresentation of the facts. We doubt the appropriateness of this communication from a senior Officer of the Council. The misleading opportunity cost comparisons are a clumsy diversion. The suggestion that closing the course was purely to save money just before it was likely to experience its highest summer income for years is, to say the least, questionable.
The asserted but much contested “losses” accumulated over 5 years should be withdrawn as an unfit basis on which to conduct discussion of public policy.
- We note the comments – paras 32 and 33 Advance Publication of Reports March 10th
- There is no statutory legal duty to consult on the proposed closure of Whitewebbs
Park Golf Club.
- There is a however a public law duty to consider. Specifically, a duty may arise because parties to be consulted have a legitimate expectation of consultation, which results either from a promise or from an established practice of consultation.
The document fails to acknowledge that commitments have already been made to consult
From the same document Paras 25 and 26
Equalities Impact of the proposal
“A scoping assessment has concluded that the equalities impact assessment is neither relevant nor proportionate for the approval of this report”
This is one of a very limited number of public courses in the area. No membership qualifications, low fees, anyone can play. Since when has open to all not been relevant to equal opportunities?
The reference to membership discounts and carefully selected comparable fees reflect the viewpoint of a high earner not those of with a more modest income or on a minimum wage.
Environmental and climate change considerations
“In the short term, the proposals are likely to reduce vehicle trips which will have a positive impact on carbon emissions given that transport (predominantly fossil fuel- based road transport) is accountable for 39% of the borough wide total “.
Of course it won’t – golfers will be expected to travel further by car to all those courses which you seem to think will have spare capacity.
The above demonstrate the limited thinking that went into the document.
Why issue assurances and then serially disregard them? The public interest is not represented anywhere in these indefensible proceedings.
The whole process from the start to where we are now has been mishandled.
Many see this exercise as an experimental precursor to the privatisation of all public park activity and facilities – see the consultations on park events and the Green and Blue strategy.
If LBE wishes to make all open spaces net financial contributors, it will not gain public support, nor evidently is such a policy feasible. In particular it would run counter to the many assurances issued that LBE is concerned for health equality across the borough.
We seek the council’s urgent reconsideration of the objectives and process for planning the future of Whitewebbs Park, prioritising its social and ecological value in pursuance of stated council aims and strategies.
We expect the Council and its Officers to comply with the promises made for full consultation* with all stakeholders in accordance with 2 a above. Anything less would be viewed as a gross breach of faith on the part of the Council and its Officers.
This consultation to be undertaken at senior level to incorporate realistic and informed judgements as to how the public can be best served.
Whitewebbs Park plays no part in any LBE housing plan and this requires to be stated again up front.
Ruling out the site for all non-related developments or apportionments is an essential first step, followed by open consultation with the public, avoiding tendencies to pre-judge and broadcast predetermined positions.
Whitewebbs Park is a public asset of which the Council is a custodian and must be treated appropriately in future.
*Consultation should, as a minimum consist of:
1. Sight in full of the 5/6 final bids together with a written resume of their key features.
2. Adequate time to inform and receive feedback from our members. (10 working days)
3. A clear account of the terms of the leases and the arrangements for enforcement.
Chair of the Friends of Whitewebbs Park