Council lease of Whitewebbs Park to Tottenham Hotspur deemed lawful

High Court judge throws out case brought by local resident arguing Enfield Council’s decision to lease the former golf course at the park to Spurs broke the law, reports James Cracknell

The former golf course at Whitewebbs Park
The former golf course at Whitewebbs Park

A legal bid to quash the leasing of Whitewebbs Park to Tottenham Hotspur has been thrown out by a High Court judge who sided with Enfield Council in a written judgment issued today (Friday 17th).

Mr Justice Mould heard three days of evidence in February after the case was brought by Friends of Whitewebbs Park chair Sean Wilkinson, who argued the council acted unlawfully in its decision to lease half of the park to Tottenham Hotspur FC (THFC) last year.

The Premier League club wants to build a women’s and girls’ football academy on the northern part of the former Whitewebbs Park Golf Course and is set to enter into a 25-year lease with the council, in which THFC also agrees to maintain the remaining area of the course as open parkland for the public.

The lease still remains contingent on the council granting planning permission to Spurs for its women’s academy, with the plans submitted last month now being open to consultation. If the plans are rejected, the lease won’t go ahead.

In reaction to the news that the judicial review case brought by Sean had been rejected on all four grounds of appeal, a council spokesperson said: “Enfield Council welcomes this judgment confirming that due process was followed at all times leading up to the decision to enter into the agreement for lease.

“The lease of part of Whitewebbs Park is set to bring significant benefits to the local community including the protection and enhancement of the park and woods, further investment in a new on-site café, toilets and other facilities as well as preserving open public access to over 80% of the park for all residents.”

In his own statement reacting to the verdict, Sean said: “The judgement includes important decisions that adversely affect public open spaces in Enfield and potentially in the whole of London and beyond.

“Although supporters will be disappointed with the Judge’s decision this is far too important an issue for us to abandon the case. We will be asking for permission to appeal the judgement

“Do not think for one moment that we are giving up on this vitally important case.”

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The first ground of appeal claimed that the council had “no power to dispose of a lease” under the Local Government Act 1972 “in such a manner that members of the public are unable to obtain access to some part of the park”.

However, on this ground the judge ruled: “The proposed training facility will have a social and educational element. It will foster a large element of community access and support women’s and girls’ football locally. It will consist of both indoor and open air facilities catering for the club’s women’s team, for academy teams and the wider community (including boys and mixed training). The proposals were not confined to commercial football training, as the claimant contends.”

The second ground argued that, if it was ruled the council did have power to dispose of the park, “it may not do so without appropriation” of the land for its new intended purpose.

However, on this ground, the judge wrote that he could “find nothing upon which to infer” in the Local Government Act 1972 “the legislative intention that the decision to dispose must be founded upon a prior decision to appropriate”.

The third ground for appeal claimed that, in taking its decision to lease Whitewebbs Park to Spurs last July, the council “failed to understand, and failed to take account of, the obviously material fact that granting a lease for the use of the land as a private training academy [by THFC] would be inconsistent with its statutory purpose”.

This ground saw the most passionate arguments made in court as it was claimed that councillors on the overview and scrutiny committee were essentially “misled” by not being explicitly told about the statutory purpose of the land – being held in public trust as open space for recreational use – before making the decision to confirm the lease.

However, Mr Justice Mould again rejected this argument and said: “In the light of the information and advice given by officers to the [council] leader in the June report, and subsequently in the further report to the overview scrutiny committee, I am satisfied that in taking the decisions under challenge on 7th July and 27th July 2023, the defendant did recognise and take proper account of the fact that granting the proposed lease would be inconsistent with the public’s beneficial interest in the enjoyment of the land under the statutory trusts.”

In the fourth and final ground, Sean and his legal team from the Public Interest Law Centre argued that the council, in taking its decision, “was influenced by the prospect of a capital receipt yet did not take account of (or failed to understand) the limitations in law on its ability to make use of that money”.

But the judge ruled: “The advice given in the June report that the premium and other monies payable to the defendant upon the grant of the proposed lease to THFC would be available for use as part of its general funds was not erroneous in law.”

The full 61-page written verdict is available to read here.

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