Agenda item

WHITEWEBBS EXPRESSION OF INTEREST

a.    Update from Officers on Expression of Interest (5 minutes)

b.    Questions & Answers (20 minutes)

Minutes:

RECEIVED an update from Mark Bradbury, Director of Property & Economy.

 

NOTED:

 

i)             Enfield Council announced last year that it was looking to lease the 18-hole course and some of the surrounding woodland to a commercial partner to combat a fall in revenues. The marketing exercise to identify potential intertest in Whitewebbs had now commenced.

ii)            Previous proposals which had included a 125-year lease had been halted as it was recognised that this was not appropriate.

iii)           There were no proposals to sell off Whitewebbs and any lease would contain strict controls to enable the Council to ensure compliance with the conditions of the lease.

iv)           Whitewebbs Golf Course has been losing money for several years and usage has dropped by 20% in the last two years (this was not exclusive to Whitewebbs, it is the same nationwide). Golf course are expensive to run and with usage falling this is not sustainable, therefore a range of options are being considered that may or may not include golf.

v)            The Council would be seeking proposals that enhance and broaden access to Whitewebbs and promote greater biodiversity, as well as offering improved visitor facilities including refreshments and ongoing community engagement.

vi)           Clear criteria relating to the above had been set and enhanced to include that the highest bidder cannot succeed if it does not meet these set criteria.

vii)          Proposals would not be considered that included land fill, a loss of ancient woodland, housing or large commercial development.

viii)        It was acknowledged that some of the marketing literature and early communications had not helped with the concerns the public have. The marketing prospectus had now been updated accordingly.

ix)           18 expressions of interest had been received from experienced leisure and sports providers and trusts and education providers regarding the future management of Whitewebbs Park Golf Course. Detailed information on any of these proposals could not be discussed at this point of the process as the Council is bound by Legal and Procurement rules.

x)            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.

xi)           Once the preferred bidder has been announced a public drop-in event will be organised to make sure that all interested parties can comment before a final decision is made.

 

Following Mark Bradbury’s update the following comments and questions were raised:

 

Councillor Rawlings said that she was worried about the felling of trees as it is known that this already happens through the need to take enforcement action. It is also known that an organisation has taken over part of the Green Belt and they have not adhered to their original planning application. This is a worry going forward should the same organisation submit a bid for Whitewebbs Park Golf Course.

 

Mark explained that where the Council do not own the land, enforcement is the only option. However, the Council has much better control of their own land through the conditions of the lease. If the party in question or any other party that has an investment in the borough comes forward with a proposal, their past actions will be considered when making a decision.

 

Councillor Alessandro Georgiou felt that the council had a very poor record of tendering out leases and asked how contractually, future enforcement will be ensured?

 

Mark said that this would entail a combination of robust terms of lease, enforcement, a proper landlord and regular inspections. He acknowledged that there had been underinvestment in the Property Team in the past. However, investment is now taking place to provide the team with new resources and skills. He also added that we would ensure that if the lessee is not providing what the council wants it has the appropriate step-in rights to take it back. This was something that had not always happened enough in the past. Enfield Council are continually looking at how it makes its leases more robust and professional. Any proposed business plan will be subject to thorough analysis and scrutiny and internal and external advice will be sought where necessary. Careful consideration will also be given to any proposed use and whether this is seen to be viable in the long term.

 

Councillor Georgiou also asked for clarification regarding any proposed café and whether this would be built on woodland or brown fill land? Mark said that it was very difficult to say as the detail of any proposal is not known at this time. He did add however that any proposal that involved for instance the cutting down of trees, would not be approved.

 

Councillor Aramaz said that he was excited to see such a great public turnout at the meeting. He asked how likely the Council were to use the sanctions that they already have and felt it was most important to show that it was ready to use its enforcement powers when necessary.

 

Mark advised that a Strategic Asset Management Plan had been produced to look at how all Council assets are managed. The Council have started to be much more robust with tenants and would continue to do so going forward. The first preference as a rule is not to sell council land as leasing allows for much more power.

 

Councillor Aramaz asked for timescales for the bidding process and Mark provided details.

 

 

 

Councillor Brown felt that the success of the process very much depended on the Terms of Lease. Mark responded by saying that the Council will be very clear about what can and cannot be done and what the sanctions would be if the stipulations of the lease were not adhered to.

 

Further comments and questions from residents included the following:

 

·         Why does use of the woodland need to be included in the proposed lease?

·         Why is the Council not looking at funding from bodies such as the National Trust to enhance bridal paths etc. to make Whitewebbs a much more attractive place to visit?

·         Over 2,500 people have so far signed a petition against these proposals. Will this be considered when making a final decision?

·         The golf course to date has suffered from an unmanageable business model as it has had to fund itself on green fees alone. Other golf courses have for instance a bar/function rooms to rent out which make for a much better business venture.

·         Councillor Laban asked that, if after the public meeting residents didn’t like the proposals will the Council still proceed with its current plan? Will the land be de-classified under the Local Plan?

·         Will there be a full and comprehensive traffic plan as part of the proposal as traffic management is very important?

·         Concerns were raised regarding the suggested financial losses incurred by the existing golf club as it was felt that these were not accurate. The Chair, Councillor Lemonides asked that these be checked and clarified.

Action: Mark Bradbury, Director of Property & Economy

·         In light of Enfield Council’s commitment to the Climate emergency why is the woodland even being offered up as part of the lease?

·         How important is biodiversity and the natural/circle of life in the Council’s decision-making process?

·         The Council refers to a public scoring matrix. Where is this published?

·         The marketing criteria is very vague. More specific information is needed regarding the set criteria.

·         Information in the published marketing material is contradictory. Can this be looked at?

·         It was state that there will be ‘no landfill’ but this needed clarifying?

 

Mark responded to the points raised as follows:

 

·         Any proposal that involved an increase in HGV movements will require planning consent and an accompanying transport assessment. All bidders will need to carry out pre-application consultation with the Council’s planning department before submitting a bid. Planning comments will therefore be available before any decision is taken on a preferred partner.

·         Enfield Council will not enter a lease in advance of a planning consent being granted. This would ensure that there is further public consultation at that stage.

·         We would not allow any proposal that involved importing building waste or demolition materials. The only imported material that would be considered would be soil and only if there was a clear leisure purpose for that.

·         The set criteria would be republished. However, there will be certain information that is commercially sensitive that cannot be published. Advice would be sort from the Director or Law & Governance regarding this issue.

Action: Mark Bradbury, Director of Property & Economy

 

·         There is no current lease that needs to be renewed neither is there any current lease terms that need to be adhered to. As such no decision has currently been taken to include use of the woodland. The Council had however included the woodlands to try and encourage investment in maintaining biodiversity.

·         We are committed to ensuring that the valued green space and ancient woodland are protected and that the proposals deliver enhanced public access and greater biodiversity.

·         All marketing material would be reviewed and an up to date statement added to the Council website if necessary.

Action: Mark Bradbury, Director of Property & Economy

 

 

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.

Action: Mark Bradbury, Director of Property & Economy.