New women’s football academy proposed for Whitewebbs, reports James Cracknell
Tottenham Hotspur have emerged as the top contender to win a lease for the now-closed Whitewebbs Park Golf Course.
Spurs want to build a women’s and girls’ football academy on the Green Belt site, which is adjacent to the Premier League club’s training ground.
Enfield Council announced the permanent closure of the pay-as-you-play golf course earlier this year, having previously invited commercial bids from “sports and leisure providers” to lease the site and its surrounding ancient woodland in 2019.
Of the five final offers, the Tottenham Hotspur bid is now the only one being considered, after it ranked highest overall against the council’s scoring criteria. This examination was based on each bidder’s “ability to meet the council’s key objectives”, which include “both local community aspirations and the need to find a sustainable and viable future for the site”.
As well as the women’s academy, the football club wants to open a “sports turf academy” to provide “employment and training opportunities for a new generation of sports turf, green-keeping, horticultural and mechanical staff”. It would also provide investment to “reinstate 19th Century parkland with a new café, toilets and other facilities”.
The plan would see the the former golf course leased by Spurs for at least 25 years, while the council would retain the woodland and area to the south of the wood, which would be excluded from the lease. The northern half of the golf course would be used for football, while the southern half would be turned into “parkland and wild meadows”. The woodland would also see “improving biodiversity and improved paths for walking, cycling and horse riding”.
Using the new rental income from Spurs, the council would invest £100,000 a year into grassroots sport for young people across the borough.
The council had claimed that Whitewebbs Park Golf Course was too costly to continue running itself, although the figures it published to justify its closure this year have been disputed by councillors.
Reacting to the news that Tottenham Hotspur were the only bidders now being considered, Sean Wilkinson, chair of the Friends of Whitewebbs Park users’ group, told the Dispatch: “It only confirms long-circulated rumours that the council has done a deal with Spurs without consulting people.
“We had in writing a commitment [from the council] that there would be engagement with full details of the five final bids – they have not fulfilled that promise to users and stakeholders. I am appalled.
“Frankly I don’t think I can believe anything the council says.”
A decision on whether to proceed with the Tottenham Hotspur proposal will be made in mid-July and is subject to approval from councillors. There would then follow a planning application, which would be subject to statutory consultation, with the lease not being signed until permission is granted.
Council leader Nesil Caliskan said: “Whitewebbs [Park] Golf Course has made a significant financial loss over the last five years and it would be irresponsible of the council to subsidise this venture.
“If these proposals are approved we will use the rental income to reinvest an extra £100,000 a year into grassroots sport for young people across the borough.
“Residents have consistently told us that any proposal for the future of Whitewebbs needs to ensure the public continue to have access to this beautiful area.
“We were clear from the start that any partner we select for this scheme must put the community at the heart of their vision and I am pleased to see that the bid from Tottenham Hotspur does precisely that.
“I am also pleased that other bids that included soil importation have not scored highly and have therefore been ruled out.”
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy said: “As with our existing training centre, close attention to detail will be paid to ensuring the site’s natural environmental habitat is maintained and enhanced and that all design is to the very highest standards.
“Our proposals will enhance public access, improve opportunities for recreational and community use and build on the fantastic work that has been delivered by our foundation in Enfield over the past decade.
“The new Women and Girls’ Football Academy will enable us to continue developing the game at grass roots level and to improve participation in the sport.
“It would be the first of its kind in the UK and it would be in Enfield – an
Bids to take over the golf course that were rejected by the council included plans to create a petting farm, dog agility course and mountain bike trail; a large-scale driving range and adventure golf course; and a “significant” new building for hosting large-scale events.