Point by point response to golf course closure proposal

Comments are in Bold Italics

Please note Part 2 report is now confidential appendix.

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

London Borough of Enfield

Portfolio Report

Report of: Mark Bradbury Director of Property & Economy

Doug Wilkinson Director of Environment &

Operational Services

Subject: Whitewebbs Park Golf Course

Cabinet Member: Cllr Caliskan – Leader of the Council

Cllr Dogan – Cabinet Member for Environment &

Sustainability

Executive Director: Sarah Cary – Place

Ward: Chase

Key Decision: KD5177

Purpose of Report

1. This report details the reasons for marketing Whitewebbs Park Golf Club

(WPGC) due the ongoing cost of operating the course and recommends that the

golf course provision remains closed pending the announcement of next steps on

the leasing of the site.

This is a major change to the park and is being proposed without consultation with the park stakeholders

2. Whitewebbs Golf Course has been run at a significant cost to the Council

for several years despite measures to reduce costs and attract more

income. Continuing to absorb those costs is not financially sustainable

especially when there is alternative provision for golf in the borough.

The financial analysis included in the report is flawed, as has previously been explained and should be challenged. (in summary, the financial analysis includes all sorts of debatable costs that give entirely the wrong impression of the actual operating costs);

3. A robust marketing process to secure a tenant for Whitewebbs Golf

Course; setting out clear requirements around the experience and

financial standing of bidders and detailed requirements around securing

enhanced public access; maintenance of woodland and open areas; a

wider range of leisure activities; provision of refreshment and welfare

facilities and public engagement; has been carried out. Conclusion of the

process has been delayed due to both the council and some bidders

prioritising other matters during the pandemic however it is expected that

the Council will be able to announce next steps later this spring.

Such public engagement as there has been due solely to the efforts of the community. Right from the start we have been fed misleading information and forums for discussion have been closed down (Green Belt Forum, for example). Even a Senior Council official admitted  publicly that the process was mishandled. Has the Council conveniently forgotten the massive response to the petition?
Since the process started there has been a massive change in circumstances which the marketing process has failed to recognise.

We have been told that no decisions will be made until after the “Blue and Green” consultation has been done.  We are not aware of the results of this consultation. Friends of Whitewebbs, along with many others submitted detailed  responses.

4. The golf course has been closed since 4th January and the Government’s

Roadmap out of Lockdown currently indicates that it could reopen from

28th March.

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

Proposal

5. In view of the ongoing cost to the Council of operating the course and the

expected announcement regarding the leasing of the site it is

recommended that: –

i) The Director of Environment & Operational Services is authorised to

close the golf course with immediate effect.

Reason for Proposal(s)

4. Year on year WPGC has been run at a significant cost to the Authority. Since

2014/15 the service has reduced its annual expenditure by approx. £208k and

During this time, significant measures have been taken to improve the online

profile and accessibility of the golf course, whilst, new marketing campaigns have

been undertaken. Despite these measures, the number rounds of golf played has

continually fallen and annual income has fallen consistently since 2016/17

The figures for the post lockdown period indicated a month for month increase in income of over 80% compared with the previous year. £187,520 as opposed to £103,504 for the equivalent four months of the previous year. This was real money coming in. An income of between £200,000 and £300,000 could be expected over the next six months. Again, this would be real income. Is the Council so flush with money that it can disregard real cash income?

5. Portfolio decision KD4849 in March 2019 delegated authority to re-market

WPGC, taking a more flexible approach in order achieve a sustainable future that

optimises delivery of the Council’s Corporate Objectives. On 11 April 2019, the

Overview & Scrutiny Committee agreed to confirm the decision.

6. Following a two phased marketing process, 6 bids were received and evaluated.

The evaluation process identified a clear highest scoring bid which most closely

met the Council’s requirements.
At this stage the Council had promised to consult “Stakeholders”. Stakeholders  represent a wide range of interests – Friends, wildlife organisations, sports, youth groups, golfers, all approved and recognised by the Council.This has not been done

7. Shortly following the evaluation process the implications of managing the Global

COVID19 Pandemic meant that the priorities of both the Council and many of the

bidders changed and progression of the marketing process was deferred. At this

stage one of the bids was withdrawn.

9. Officers have recently been able to progress the evaluation process and it is

expected that an announcement regarding next steps should be made shortly.

10. Closing the course whilst this is finalised will reduce ongoing operational losses.

There are many courses in Enfield and the surrounding area, many of which will

welcome new members and players. Pay and play golf is available at both Crews

Hill and Trent Park courses.
How does closing the course to reduce operational costs when closure takes place at the period of peak income work. This is like closing Hamleys Toy Store for the two months before Christmas.

While there are other golf courses last year demonstrated that there was not the capacity to meet demand. Golfers reported great difficulty in obtaining a playing slot. Private courses put their prices up, Whitewebbs did not  but raised its income  by selling more of its premium priced slots.

Relevance to the Council’s Corporate Plan

13. Financial resilience and good governance

Closure of the course will ensure that we target resources smartly and reinvest

income wisely to deliver excellent value for money in all that we do.
As has been pointed out on many occasions the business model for Whitewebbs is very poor. The café has been kept small thereby limiting the rent that can be charged and the  old Golf Club is let out at a very low rate. No golf course survives on green fees. It would be good to have seen some smart and wise investment in Whitewebbs under all administrations.

Background

14. Whitewebbs Park Golf Course (WPGC), is an 18-hole course located at

the northern border of Enfield. The golf course requires significant

investment to bring it to modern standards.

15. The site has two basic club houses, one of which (Southern Clubhouse) is

leased as a private members club and is dilapidated; a pro shop and a

mobile catering concession. The property has significant challenges,

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

including, but not limited to, Green Belt planning designation and licensing

restrictions

16. WPGC includes Whitewebbs Woods, and pockets of parkland adjacent to

the golf course. Whitewebbs Woods is deemed ancient woodland and is

classed as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation

This is completely misleading. Whitewebbs Park was purchased by the then Local Authority in 1931. Subsequently a golf course of just over 100 acres was constructed leaving  about 140 acres of woodland /parkland. Whitewebbs Park contains the golf course. The golf course does not contain the park and woodland. Please remember the anger and offence caused by your initial marketing material which dismissed the ancient woodland as “adjacent land”.

17. Whitewebbs House is located within the grounds of the WPGC site but is

separated from the property titles and is not subject to this report.

Whitewebbs House was leased to Whitbread PLC in 1998.
What responsibilities does the lessee have for maintaining the grounds of Whitewebbs House. The fencing is in a disgraceful state and the grounds are neglected. Is this another case of poor lease enforcement or was the lease poorly constructed?

18. The Authority manages and maintains the entire WPGC site. The site’s

revenue streams including, green fees, golf membership, equipment hire,

retail sales and a license income from a mobile catering concession.

17. Employment at the site is made up of pro shop staff and grounds

maintenance staff. The Authority currently employs the following at

WPGC:

· Golf Development Officer

· Golf Shop Service Assistants x 2

· Assistant Greenkeepers x 2

The Greenkeepers not only support the golf course but make a contribution to the wellbeing and enjoyment of all visitors. The course is  beautiful and a major contributor to the biodiversity of the whole park.

18. Year on year WPGC has been run at a significant cost to the Authority.

Since 2014/15 the service has reduced its annual expenditure by approx.

£208k. During this time, significant measures have been taken to improve

the online profile and accessibility for the golf course, whilst, new

marketing campaigns have been undertaken. Despite these measures,

rounds of golf played has continually fallen and annual income has fallen

by approx.

 £49k between 2016/17 and 2019/20.

See the comment above re the council’s accounting

19. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, WPGC was closed from mid-March 2020

until 2nd June 2020 and again on 4th January 2021 and 28th March 2021.

During these golf course closures, the maintenance schedule continued,

so the site operational expenditure costs have generally continued to be

incurred. Whilst there was an increase in bookings during the summer this

was considered a temporary situation where existing golfers made up for

lost rounds during lockdown, it is expected that the overall net cost of

WPGC for the 2020/21 Will remain similar to those of the previous years

(shown in paragraph 18).

Main Considerations for the Council

20. Whitewebbs Golf Course has been run for several years at a cost to the Council.

Closure of the course will reduce those costs and release funding to meet

Council priorities.

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

21. There are several other courses in the borough, including three owned by the

Council, and more in the surrounding area that offer opportunities for golfers and

prospective golfers to enjoy or take up the sport.

Whitewebbs is a public course where anyone can play.  It is not a Club where you have to pay a high annual fee, wear the right fashionable gear or respect the club captain’s parking space.  Other courses exist but they are further away (more traffic, more pollution) and it will become more difficult for players to get a playing slot.  Prices will be higher.

Safeguarding Implications

22. It is not considered that there are any safeguarding implications arising from

these decisions.

Public Health Implications

23. Closing the course and allowing greater public access to this site will encourage

physical activity and provide added exposure to the natural environment which

will also improve mental health. Enfield is well served with golf courses so it is

not considered that there will be a significant impact on participation in this sport.

“Closing the course ………… will encourage physical activity”  Radical thinking indeed.
Has a study been made of the capacity of the available courses? If not, “well-served” is meaningless.
The Friends of Whitewebbs have put forward a number of practical and affordable suggestions to council officials to improve public access to the parkland. It has also submitted proposals as part of the “Blue and Green strategy” consultation. All parks are under increased pressure  as a result of the changes in people’s work life patterns caused by the pandemic. There is a need, recognised by the Blue and Green paper to take this into account.
If the Council does not need the potential income from the golf course this year, perhaps it could be used to make improvements to the park – paths, signage, drainage, fencing

Equalities Impact of the Proposal

24. A scoping assessment has concluded that an equalities impact assessment is

neither relevant nor proportionate for the approval of this report.

Equal opportunities – “A scoping assessment (whatever that is) concluded that an equalities assessment is neither relevant  ……..” 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?

Environmental and Climate Change Considerations

25. 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 (as

measured in 2018).

No 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.

26. Going forward, there are opportunities to look at the role the site can play in

contributing to the Council’s Climate Action Plan ambitions for additional tree

planting and an increase in the quality of the biodiversity offered in the borough.

It should be noted that the environmental and climate change implications of

specific proposals will be considered as part of related decision-making reports.

There appears to be a mistaken view, probably from those who have never visited the park, that the golf course is a barren waste of grass monoculture devoid of any biological activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is very similar in character to Crews Hill golf course which has SINC (Site of importance for Nature Conservation).  Even a cursory glance at Google Earth would show the mix of trees, hedgerows, thickets and water courses present. It provides biological corridors connecting Whitewebbs Woods with Forty Hall. Studies have identified large amounts of bat activity on the course and around  the wooded margins. It is a mature landscape with a mix of vegetation and animal life. Woodland is not the only habitat for animal life.  Traditional forests, like Enfield Chase, are a mix of trees and open spaces not  closely packed trees

Risks that may arise if the proposed decision and related work is not taken

27. If the Authority was to continue the operation of the golf course it would continue

to be at a significant cost to the Council.

See comments about  accounting above

Risks that may arise if the proposed decision is taken and actions that will be

taken to manage these risks

28. Closure of the Golf Course may reduce participation in the sport but as detailed

in the report there are numerous courses nearby many of which will welcome

new players and members to help ensure their ongoing viability. At least two of

these, Crews Hill and Trent Park Golf Courses offer competitively priced pay and

play options.

See above for comments on this assertion

Financial Implications

29. The report recommends that the golf course provision remains closed. The

closure of the Golf course will still require some maintenance of the area pending

the decision on leasing the site, these costs will be met from the existing Parks

and Open Space maintenance budgets.

See above for comments on loss of real income   £200,000 to £300,000

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

30. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, WPGC was closed from mid-March 2020

until 2nd June 2020 and again on 4th January 2021 and 28th March 2021.

During these golf course closures, the maintenance schedule continued,

so the site operational expenditure costs have generally continued to be

incurred. Whilst there was an increase in bookings during the summer this

was considered a temporary situation where existing golfers made up for

lost rounds during lockdown, it is expected that the overall net cost of

WPGC for the 2020/21 Will remain similar to those of the previous years

(shown in paragraph 18).
The assertion that  “Whilst there was an increase in bookings during the summer this

was considered a temporary situation where existing golfers made up for lost rounds during lockdown,” needs  support from evidence. Those of us who visit the park daily saw and met many players new to the course who could not get a slot elsewhere. The new players were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the course – a credit to the greenkeepers.

Legal Implications

31. There is no statutory legal duty to consult on the proposed closure of Whitewebbs

Park Golf Club.

32. 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.

32. The Council is required as a best value authority under section 3 of the Local

Government Act 1999 to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement

in the way in which its functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of

economy, efficiency and effectiveness. This report indicates that continuing to run

at a loss is not financially sustainable for the Council and the benefits of the

proposals need to be balanced against the loss of community interests.

33. The Council also has a general power of competence under section 1(1) of the

Localism Act 2011 to do anything that individuals may do, provided it is not

prohibited by legislation. A local authority may exercise the general power of

competence for its own purpose, for a commercial purpose and/or for the benefit

of others.

34. Public law principles will apply to the decisions made by the Council, including the

Council’s duty to take account of its fiduciary duty and to act prudently with public

monies entrusted to it. The Council is also under a general duty to act reasonably

and show that its decisions are made after having given due and proper

consideration to all relevant factors.

Whatever the legal requirements the Council has agreed to consult with stakeholders before any significant decisions are made. The Blue and Green  strategy paper recognises that  only a partnership of the local authority and the Friends and user groups will produce affordable positive outcomes. Consultation is a two way process if it is to work for the benefit of all. Imposition by a particular interest group is not consultation.

Workforce Implications

35. There are currently 5 staff directly employed by LBE at WPGC.

Business Development Officer-Golf

Golf Course Shop Assistants x 2

Assistant Greenkeepers x 2

36. Under the proposed changes to the site due to there being potential

redundancies a separate restructuring report will need to be produced and the

Council’s Principles of Managing Re-organisations will be applied. This would

include consultation with staff and trade unions in accordance with statutory

regulations and Council guidelines.

37. The Council will seek suitable alternative employment for staff to avoid/minimise

redundancies. If redeployment proves unsuccessful, a redundancy payment and

early retirement benefits will be payable as appropriate to eligible employees in

accordance with the Council’s current policy.

PL 20.087 P KD5177 Part 1

Property Implications

38. This report has been written with input from the Strategic Property Services

team. Property implications are therefore embedded within the body of this

report.

Other Options Considered

39. To continue to operate the golf course. Continuing to run this at a loss is not

financially sustainable in a competitive market with many other courses in the

surrounding area several which are struggling to be viable

Conclusions

40. The Council operates Whitewebbs Park Golf Course (WPGC) but this is at a cost

to the Council. A robust marketing exercise has been carried out and an

announcement on next steps is expected in the near future.

41. In the meantime, the course has been closed since 4th January due to the latest

lockdown. Under the current Government Roadmap out of Lockdown it is

possible that the course could be reopened from 28th March. In view of the

ongoing cost to the council of operating the course and the alternate provision

available in the borough it is recommended that the course is not reopened.

Report Author: Mark Bradbury

Director of Property & Economy

Date of report 10 March 2021

6 thoughts on “Point by point response to golf course closure proposal”

  1. As long as they don t build another eyesore building on this lovely site, it should be another park for leisure and walking. As most places now become very crowded especially on public holidays too many people using too little space.

    1. I have been very concerned about the closure of this council facility, I regularly play at the course, and would like to be involved with opposing this very unfair and dodgy council move. Could you please send me any details of groups prepared to fight against this decision.
      Best regards

      1. Please send an email to whitewebbspark@gmail.com and ask to be registered as a Friend of Whitewebbs Park.. You will receive the newsletter and be kept informed. If you use Facebook Walking in Whitewebbs has the latest information and initiatives. There is no specific group for golfers so far as I am aware.

  2. Let us know what are you going to do with all this open space that we’ve grown up and used all our lives where we walk our dogs apart from playing golf please don’t tell us that you’re going to build houses up there there’s going to be no space left for the animals for the environment,Together to stand as a front to stop this if this is your intentions as Enfield Council

  3. The council have made no provisions in there paper to reimburse the current membership that continues well into 2021. Most of which have only played for less than a third of their term due to the closure due to covid.

  4. I’m not a golfer and recognise the cost issues, the number of courses in the area etc BUT I’m afraid I also recognise Enfield Councils flawed process of consultation which sounds so familiar to me. Take the Cycle Lane consultation, Enfield Master Plan, Genotin Road car park to build Metaswitch HQ, Deutsche Bank proposals for tower blocks over our Town Centre. Similar techniques are used:-
    1. Short consultation periods under the radar so not many people respond( two I mention above took place in July in school holidays!)
    2. Arrogance and lack of engagement to listen to residents. Poor stakeholder engagement. The one exception to this has been on Public Realm, where excellent consultation by Let’s Talk Enfield has taken place. But even this has failed to strategically link to bigger issues that have been decided affecting public realm like road schemes.
    3. The council simply don’t understand Equality Impact Assessments and time after time rubber stamp bland high level assessments to suit their outcomes .
    Good luck on WhiteWebbs! It’s a wider area of outstanding beauty and history.

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