Concerns raised over public access when football academy is opened, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Enfield Council has been accused of “not listening” to residents after agreeing to hand over Whitewebbs Park Golf Course to Tottenham Hotspur.
The council has confirmed that it would award a 25-year lease for the now-closed municipal course to Spurs if the football club’s proposals win planning permission – prompting a backlash from those who want to “retain 100% access” to the whole of Whitewebbs.
The Premier League outfit wants to turn the northern part of the golf course into a football academy for its women’s and girls’ teams, comprising up to eight pitches. The plans would see the southern part of the course turned into parkland which – according to a report published by the council last week – would be “fully accessible by the public”.
The council awarded the club’s proposal the highest score against its criteria for assessing bids for the course, which included public accessibility and the maintenance of open areas. But its latest announcement has also been sharply criticised by local campaigners.
Sean Wilkinson, chair of Friends of Whitewebbs Park, said: “I have serious concerns about this – not just what they are doing for the park but for the financial basis of this deal. Whoever has negotiated this should be seriously considering their position. It looks appalling for the park.”
Sean said the financial benefits to the council – an initial premium of £500,000 followed by £75,000 yearly rent from year six to 25 – were “non-existent” compared to what the club could afford. He also warned Spurs had no experience of running a public park.
The council report states that the public previously had no right of access to the majority of the golf course. But Sean accused the council of “misrepresenting” Whitewebbs, pointing out that people regularly used the course for recreation and dog walking even when it was still open.
He claimed that when Middlesex County Council and Enfield Urban District Council bought Whitewebbs in 1931, their intention was for it to revert to open space for the enjoyment of the people after it had been used as a golf course.
A major factor behind the council’s decision to lease out the course was financial, with leaders claiming it had lost £1.1million on Whitewebbs over a five-year period. But Sean and others have disputed the figures the civic centre produced to justify the golf course’s closure.
The plan to lease out Whitewebbs Park Golf Course was a key issue in a by-election campaign that took place in Chase ward earlier this year. The election saw the Conservative candidate Andrew Thorp win a seat from Labour after pledging to campaign to protect Whitewebbs.
Cllr Thorp said: “I am deeply disappointed that the council has decided to push ahead with this course of action and offer the lease to Spurs. This is another example of the council not not listening to residents and not representing residents’ views.
“While the process to look at options has been ongoing, residents have been consistent in their objections to this plan. They want to retain 100% access to the park – and that will not be the case.”
Cllr Thorp claimed residents felt they had not been consulted properly and believed the council was simply “going through the motions” by asking for their views. But he encouraged people to continue to make their opinions heard by commenting on the upcoming planning application.
A council spokesperson said: “The preferred proposals for Whitewebbs Park Golf Course were announced in June, following an evaluation of bids.
“Tottenham Hotspur’s proposal was the highest scoring against the criteria set out by the council and has demonstrated a commitment to embrace and support the council’s vision for the Whitewebbs Park Golf Course site – which was developed in partnership with local stakeholders after extensive local engagement.
“This decision to grant a lease to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club for part of the Whitewebbs Park Golf Course site, subject to planning permission, would enhance public access, improve maintenance of woodland and open areas, and provide welfare facilities and refreshments.
“The proposals also include a new women’s and girls’ football academy and a sports turf academy, both of which will provide opportunities for the next generation.
“The council’s commitment to invest £100,000 a year extra into grassroots sport for young people, if the proposals are approved, was well publicised in June and has not changed. The additional investment into grassroots sports for young people has been enthusiastically received by residents across the borough.”
A Tottenham Hotspur spokesperson said in a statement that its bid was “based on the combination of a strong financial offer in the form of a lease and premium payments, enhanced public access through improvements to footpaths and bridleways, restoration of part of the former golf course to recreate parkland, redevelopment of the southern clubhouse to form new food and beverage facilities open to the public, and the creation of a new women and girls football academy centred on the restoration and conversion of the northern clubhouse, thereby creating a national first situated here in Enfield”.
They added: “The club’s bid was evaluated against published criteria which included bidders’ experience in comparable leisure uses, business plan and financial standing. As the council report notes, the club also scored highest in these categories as well as scoring the highest overall. The club has already developed one of the world’s leading and award-winning sports facilities next door to Whitewebbs Park.
“The club is looking forward to working closely with all stakeholders to develop its proposals into a planning application next year.”
A summary document of Tottenham Hotspur’s proposals for Whitewebbs can be found at tottenhamhotspur.com/media/39082/whitewebbs.pdf