Fears over future of Whitewebbs

Whitewebbs Park includes a large area of ancient woodland
Whitewebbs Park includes a large area of ancient woodland

Locals concerned over commercial bids to take over council park, reports James Cracknell

Fears are growing over the fate of one of the borough’s best-loved parks after Enfield Council invited commercial bids for “alternative leisure proposals” on land that includes ancient woodland.

It was reported in spring that the council was seeking to lease the 42-hectare Whitewebbs Park Golf Course to a private provider as it was struggling to cover its costs, but the Dispatch has now learned that a further 55 hectares of “adjacent land” was also included in the offer. Marketing materials for a 25-year lease beginning in March 2020 suggest the area could be used for disposing of up to 200,000 cubic metres of “inert material” that would “assist with redevelopment”.

The council has since confirmed that it has received 18 expressions of interest in the Green Belt site. Some include proposals to close the 87-year-old golf course – designed by former Open Champion John Henry Taylor – and use the land for other commercial activities. Suggested uses include a leisure centre, outdoor gym and bike track, although the council has encouraged “creative” ideas.

Local resident Sean Wilkinson, who regularly walks his dog in the woodland, says he cannot understand why the council has decided to include the whole of Whitewebbs Park in the lease. “It is a beautiful piece of ancient woodland,” he told the Dispatch. “It forms part of a suite of Green Belt land from Forty Hall Estate to Hilly Fields. What could you put there that will make a lot of money?

“What really made me angry was when they described the ancient woodland as ‘adjacent land’.”

Hoping to quell growing unrest from local people, the council issued a statement last month which ruled out using the site for landfill. It said: “The proposals include a number that propose retention of golf… Other proposals do not include golf but propose other leisure uses and/or rewilding of the landscape, nature or wildlife reserves and other woodland pursuits.

“None involve clearing the site to create a landfill. Some of the proposals would involve the import of soil to remodel the golf course, for example, and as part of our assessment we would consider the scale, suitability and impact of those proposals in the context of delivering a viable and acceptable proposal.

“Any proposal based simply on importing soil would not be considered acceptable.”

Whitewebbs faces stiff competition from nearby golf courses, despite offering an 18-hole round for as little as £8.50. Although the council claims it is losing money on the course, it has not revealed how much it receives in rental income from the Toby Carvery and Whitewebbs Café businesses which also operate in the park.

The Dispatch has also seen an email from a local councillor, Hass Yusuf, who told a resident that “it would be very easy for the council to actually sell off Whitewebbs and wipe out our budget deficit – but that won’t happen”.

Once a shortlist of bidders is drawn up the council says it will “engage with members and stakeholders” before making a final decision.