Response to formal letter of complaint

This is the text of the reply received from Mark Bradbury:

Note: A “Decision” is made by the Council. The recommendation for a “preferred bidder” is made by officers.

Classification: OFFICIAL

Dear Sean,

I refer to your letter of 5th April setting out a formal complaint. As I explained in my earlier response, stage one of our complaints procedure involves the service responding to address your concerns.

Whilst your letter refers to a number of issues I would summarise the complaint as being that the Council has failed to engage with stakeholders prior to making a decision on the leasing of Whitewebbs Park.

I must reiterate that no decision on the leasing has been made so therefore in my view we have not failed to engage before making that decision. As I have previously advised the project has been on hold due to other priorities during the pandemic.

Your letter sets out a number of more specific points which I will address individually.

1. 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. a. This has not happened. The Friends of Whitewebbs have sought information but this is not consultation.

Response :-

The project has been on hold since March 2020. This is the sole reason for the gap in engagement. No decision on the leasing has been taken and our commitment to advise stakeholders of the next steps once the project recommences has been conveyed to you. In the meantime your requests for information have been responded to.

2. Explicit assurances have been given about consultation. This one from Mark Bradbury, Director of Property and Economy December 9, 2019 a. “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.”

Response :-

As at December 9th 2019 the Council had received 38 expressions of interest. If all of those, or even a high proportion of those, expressions of interest resulted in bids being made in the second phase, it was our intention to draw up a short list. The next stage of seeking planning advice, setting enhanced criteria, which we have shared, and requiring the bidders to seek pre-application planning advice has had the effect of filtering out a number of expressions of interest that would not have met the criteria.

As you are aware 6 bids were received of which 1 was subsequently withdrawn. The process has therefore effectively shortlisted the proposals to 5 for us, we do not consider there is a need to shortlist further. As stated above the project has been on hold since March 2020 and we will engage with members and stakeholders sharing details of all 5 of the bids before selecting a preferred partner.

3. 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.

a. “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.”

b. 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

c. “We accept the marketing literature and early communications have not helped with the concerns the public have held…. (Mark Bradbury)

Response : –

A number of stakeholder groups and organisations contacted me following the request you outline above. These have been recorded on the Council’s website and several have expressed views that were taken into account in setting out the enhanced criteria as were the views expressed at the greenbelt forum. Bids are assessed against these criteria and in accordance with a scoring matrix which we have also published on our website in line with our Property Procedure Rules.

Many of the other stakeholder groups have understood why the Council has needed to pause the project over the course of the last year.

As I have stated above details of all of the bids will be shared with all stakeholders before any decision on the leasing is made.

4. 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.

Response :-

As stated above the recommendations regarding stakeholders and sharing details of bids will be followed up. The sharing of details of the bids has not happened to date because the project has been on hold. No decision on the leasing has been made in the meantime.

5. 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.

Response :-

I have responded to the point about engagement at the shortlisting stage above. I will refer your request for a transcript to our Governance team.

6. 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.

Response :-

This is noted and I believe that many of these are listed on our website. If there are others that are not listed please let me know.

7. 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.

Response :-

I have explained the reasons why formal engagement has not commenced. Several of the stakeholder groups have however shared views with us and accepted the reasons for the project being on hold.

8. 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.

Response :-

As you are aware that decision has been subject to a call in and after discussion at the Council’s overview and scrutiny panel has been confirmed.

9. 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.

Response :-

Officers are aware of the history of the park and woodlands and that the golf course has only been on the site since the 1930’s.

10. 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.

Response :-

I am not aware of any ‘apparent attempt’ to restrict access to rights of way. This is certainly not the intention of the marketing process which seeks to enhance access. Please share further details of the ‘apparent attempts’ so I can consider these further.

11. 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.

Response:-

As stated above no short listing has been undertaken and no decision on the leasing has been made. Details of all bids will be shared before any decision on the leasing is made. Ward Councillors received a confidential briefing on the bids received immediately before the project was put on hold due to the pandemic.

12. “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?

Response :-

I made this statement in response to the following statement in your email of 30th November 2020 – ‘To make a decision about the future of Whitewebbs before the imminent consultation on the parks strategy for Enfield makes little sense in current circumstances.’

13. 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.

Response :-

No decision on the leasing has been made. I have been clear in all of my communications to you that this is the case. We have committed to engage before a decision is made and that will be the case.

14. 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.

Response :-

The letter was issued to counter rumours that the site was set to be used as a landfill or for housing development and was sent outside of the purdah period.

15. We note the comments – paras 32 and 33 Advance Publication of Reports March 10th

a. There is no statutory legal duty to consult on the proposed closure of Whitewebbs Park Golf Club.

b. 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

Response :-

              Commitments were made to engage prior to making a decision on the leasing of the course. No decision has been made on the leasing of the course and as I have stated above we will carry out that engagement.

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.

Response :-

Trent Park Golf Course offers rates that are lower in many cases than Whitewebbs, as does Lee Valley. The Community Access scheme at Enfield and Crews Hill is equivalent to less than £10 per week. There are 6 courses within the borough and a further dozen close to the borough boundary demonstrating a good range of provision for all abilities and budgets.

I have been monitoring tee time availability at a number of courses including Trent Park and Lee Valley. A wide range of tee times are available at short notice at both courses during the week (with green fees from £12 and £11 respectively) and at the weekend if booked a few days ahead. This suggests that there is ample capacity.

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.

Response : –

The assurances have not been disregarded. The project has been on hold and we will engage before any decision on the leasing is made.

You have concluded your letter as follows :-

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 consultationwith 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.

Response :-

We have been clear on our website that ‘all bids are required to consist of outdoor based leisure activities. Non-leisure proposals will not be considered.’

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.

Response :-

As I have stated above the Council will share details of all 5 bids with all stakeholders prior to any decision being made on the leasing. At that stage we will confirm further details on how and when a decision will be made and this will also be published on our website.

I trust my responses reassure you that the Council remains committed to meaningful engagement with stakeholder prior to the making of any decision on the leasing of Whitewebbs. As previously advised I hope to be back in touch with all stakeholders shortly with the next steps.

Regards

Mark

Mark Bradbury MRICS, FRSA, FIoEE

Director of Property and Economy

Enfield Council

Silver Street

Enfield

EN1 3XY

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