Whitewebbs campaigners threaten council with legal action

Coalition of local groups claim ‘enclosure’ of Whitewebbs Park would be unlawful, reports James Cracknell

Whitewebbs Park Golf Course as it looked before it closed and (inset) the plan for a women’s football academy from Tottenham Hotspur

Local campaigners hoping to prevent parts of Whitewebbs Park from being leased to Tottenham Hotspur FC have threatened Enfield Council with legal action.

The Friends of Whitewebbs Park and Enfield Road Watch groups – together with the London branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) – wrote to the local authority saying they believe the 25-year lease awarded to the Premier League football club last year is “unlawful” because the proposals involve the enclosure of public open land.

Tottenham Hotspur is planning to turn the northern half of the now-closed Whitewebbs Park Golf Course into a football academy for women and girls, while keeping the southern half as open parkland. The golf course was closed by the council last year, citing high maintenance costs, with the decision to award the lease to Spurs being announced a few months later.

In a letter to the council’s senior property lawyer, Sean Wilkinson from the friends group, Carol Fisk from Enfield Road Watch and Alice Roberts from CPRE London wrote: “Although the proposals create some areas of public access – although it is unclear what legal status would be afforded to such access – and some recreational facilities, they clearly remove part of the park from public recreational use.

“It will be operated by THFC, a for-profit commercial organisation, with the aim of training elite professional football players.

“Neither the main use of the land nor the level or type of public access restrictions inherent in that use are lawful under the 1967 Order. We consider the proposals to be unlawful on this basis.”

The law the campaigners cite is the Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Order 1967, which defines what is and isn’t classified as open space. They argue that because Whitewebbs Park was transferred to Middlesex County Council under Section 169 of the Public Health Act 1875, before being inherited by Enfield Council when the local authority was created as a successor to Middlesex in 1965, the council “is in the role of trustee or custodian of the land” and “must approach decisions regarding its use accordingly”.

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They add in the letter that while the 1967 law specifically provides a golf course as an example of a “public recreational facility”, the proposal from Spurs to enclose part of the golf course for use as a football academy “unlawfully restricts public access to parts of the park” and that it was “irrational” for the council to claim “that the bid met its criteria to ‘maintain or enhance public access’.”

The local campaigners finish the letter by saying they want to see Whitewebbs Park “maintained for public recreational use”.

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Sean Wilkinson added: “The proposed sports academy will primarily be run for the purposes of contributing to the commercial success of the club. It will no longer be a public park. It’s that simple.

“Covid has brought home to all of us how important our open spaces are for the mental and physical wellbeing of the whole community and Whitewebbs is a busy park every day of the week with people of all ages enjoying space and the natural environment.”

Alice Roberts said: “We are extremely concerned that we’re seeing threats to parks all over London so we are now helping local groups access legal support to ensure they have the best chance of saving London’s parks for generations to come.”

Tottenham Hotspur FC did not reply to a request for comment.

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “The council has and will continue to follow all legal requirements in relation to the proposed leasing of land at Whitewebbs to Tottenham Hotspur Limited.”

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