Agenda item

Petition - Whitewebbs Park

To receive a report from the Director of Law and Governance detailing a petition received about Whitewebbs Park. 

(Report No. 220)


Members are asked to note that the Petition has been submitted under the Council’s Petition scheme and, in accordance with the scheme, has been referred for debate at Council as it contains more than the required 3,124 signatures.


Under the terms of the Petition Scheme the petition organiser will be given 5 minutes to present the petition at the Council meeting.  Council will then have the opportunity to discuss the petition for a maximum period of 15 minutes.


The Council will then need to decide how to respond to the petition.  In doing this, Council may decide to take the action requested, not take the action (for reasons given during the debate) or to commission further investigation. 


Where the issue is one on which the Council Executive are required to make the final decision, the Council will decide whether to make recommendations to inform that decision.


The Lead Petitioner Sean Wilkinson spoke for 5 minutes in support of the petition on Whitewebbs Park.  He raised the following points: 


·         Leases and freehold purchase were used in the past by the rich and powerful to enclose the land of Enfield Chase.  The poor received nothing. However, in 1931 an enlightened Council purchased Whitewebbs Park as public open space for the people of Enfield. 

·         Whitewebbs is a beautiful park with a small café, many attractive footpaths and a public golf course.  It makes a huge contribution to people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

·         The ancient woodland with its magnificent trees cleans the air, helps flood prevention and to combat climate change. 

·         Although it is poorly served by public transport, there is free parking which makes it very accessible.

·         There is an abundance of plant and animal life, lots of biodiversity. 

·         Any development that involves construction, earth-working and landscaping would be a denial of the Council’s commitment to climate reform. 

·         There was concern that the potential for dealing with 200,000 cubic metres of imported material has not been retracted from the tender documents. 

·         The suggestion that the golf course was losing money could be applied to any of the Council’s leisure facilities.  It was felt that accounts can be twisted to show anything. 

·         The golf course needed quality preparation, the right facilities and adequate parking. 

·         There has been a policy of secrecy around this issue, minimal publicity, misleading and contradictory statements. 

·         The initial commitment to require the current level of public access across the park has been changed to rights of way, but there were none in the park. 

·         Any community consultation had been done by the community, who had consulted with 120 park users at a public meeting and had put together a petition signed by over 3,500 people. 

·         A Council committee and councillors had been misled by officers. 

·         The secrecy had generated a great deal of mistrust. 

·         The Council had only organised a question and answer session with the preferred bidder.  There was no longer any stakeholder involvement. 

·         Councillors were custodians not owners of the park and they had a responsibility to guard it for the people of Enfield, not to sell it off to the rich and powerful

·         The petitioners wanted their children and grandchildren to have a beautiful natural park, to enhance the environment, defend the climate, for the Council to think anew and put an end to these proposals. 


In response, Councillor Caliskan, Leader of the Council thanked the petitioner and the residents who had come to attend the meeting.  She made the following points: 


·         She agreed that the park was absolutely beautiful.

·         The Council had owned the freehold since 1931 and there were no restrictive covenants. 

·         The golf course had been opened in 1932 so there was a long history of sport on the site.  However, over the past 5 years the golf course had has lost money, over £960,000.  This money was needed to deliver other vital services such as adult social care and services for children. 

·         The Council owned other local golf courses which have successfully operated under leases for many years.

·         There had been lots of misinformation about this matter, particularly during the recent General Election, but the Leader made very clear that the Council would not be selling or disposing of the site.  There were no plans for housing development, major building or landfill. 

·         The Council were proposing a 25year lease with no automatic renewal and strict controls.  The whole site would not necessarily be included in the lease. The surrounding land had been included in the tender document to encourage ideas for further leisure uses and to enhance biodiversity through further planting or active management of the wood and grassland areas. 

·         Any proposal for Whitewebbs would be subject to planning policy.  The Council’s position was to protect and boost this popular open space. 

·         In the first phase of the tender process, the Council had received 18 expressions of interest.  These bidders had received advice from the planners and it was expected that 6 of these will be submitted to the next stage.  This would be announced next week. 

·         The Council were committed to engaging with stakeholders, such as the Woodland Trust and the Local Wildlife Trust.  A public engagement event would be held in late May/early June. 

·         The Council would make sure that it was utilising its assets in the best way possible and was looking to enhance public open space so that it could be enjoyed by everyone.


In response Councillor Laban highlighted the following: 


·         Support for the petitioners in their passion for local green spaces.

·         The need to acknowledge that the Council had gone about this project in the wrong way.  Communication had been very poor, people had been alarmed by the inclusion of the woodlands and the possibility of soil dumping in the tender documents. 

·         Support for the Leader’s commitment to further engagement. 

·         The need to listen to taxpayers concerns about any proposals for Whitewebbs. 


Other points highlighted during the debate by the majority group: 


·         The Council would be consulting with the public and would listen to the views of the petitioners and other residents.

·         The Council had always been committed to the first five points in the petition and they would continue to adhere to them.   

·         Some misinformation had been promoted during the election campaign. 

·         Local ward councillors had been fervent green campaigners.

·         Whitewebbs should be used by the many not the few.  Activities for the whole family would be welcomed. Biodiversity needed protecting. Any new leaseholder would have to be transparent on and committed to these issues. 

·         The valued criteria included protection of the rights of way, preserving and enhancing biodiversity, refreshing facilities and a community engagement plan. 

·         Several members expressed good memories of the park.  It was haven for wildlife, for rest and recuperation.

·         The Council had every intention to ensure that the park was there for future generations.

·         The Council had admitted that they had made mistakes, but listening was a two-way process.  It was heartening to see so much local interest, particularly as Whitewebbs was one of the few parks in the borough without a friend’s group. 


Other points highlighted during the debate from the Opposition: 


·         The marketing of Whitewebbs was a lesson in how not to do things.

·         The residents had many legitimate concerns. During the election campaign many posters supporting the petition had been seen in the windows of local people.


At the end of the debate Councillor Caliskan, Leader of the Council summed up the Council’s response.  She thanked the Lead petitioner, was happy to listen to people’s views, but had to take account of the fact that the golf course had only 100 members and was losing money.  The Council was committed to protecting and enhancing the open space and were looking to ensure adequate investment.  But she also regretted the huge misinformation campaign about the matter. 


It was agreed, after a vote with the following result, that the points raised by the petitioners would be referred to the Executive Director Place for further consideration. 


For 36

Against:  13

Abstentions: 0



Supporting documents: