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Race to decide future of golf course sites a ‘huge missed opportunity’ to engage with community, say Greens

Greens call for a rethink and say Labour Council’s botched process means plans for sites will fall far short of ambition

Hopes for an ambitious environmental project at the Hollingbury and Waterhall golf sites could be dashed because a botched process left no time to respond to community concerns, Greens have said.

Councillors have been asked to consider the future management of the Hollingbury and Waterhall sites, as the lease for running the golf courses is set to expire on 31st March 2020.

Despite broad public interest in the management of the sites, Greens say the tight timetable for a decision on the future of the golf courses has prevented in-depth community involvement, criticising the Labour Council for conducting a ‘last-minute,’ process.

Questions over the future of the site were raised at a council committee meeting in June 2019, leaving just months to find suitable leaseholders, discuss the details and agree a lease.

Greens say that tight application deadlines left community and volunteer-led organisations with little time to support or submit robust proposals, freezing out community expertise. Green Councillors have also expressed disappointment that little time was given to develop an ‘in-house,’ council-led option. Condemning the lack of consultation, Greens have criticised the Labour Council for failing to take community concerns into account.

Now, it has been revealed that while a bid has come forward to ‘rewild’ the Waterhall site, options for Hollingbury Golf Course will now no longer be heard or scrutinised by TECC Committee,  bypassing a key stage in the decision-making process.

A further attempt by the Greens to strengthen plans for ‘rewilding,’ has also been rejected, as the terms of the lease of the sites has already been agreed. Greens have urged the Waterhall bidders to work with environmental organisations to develop a rewilding project of the highest standard.

Greens say that failures in the decision-making process represent a ‘huge missed opportunity,’ to rethink the future of the sites, calling on the Labour Council to urgently review the decision and allow more time to engage with the community and bidders.

Councillor Marianna Ebel, who is proposing an amendment on the golf course decision, commented:

“Greens are extremely disappointed at how the decision over the future of the golf courses has been managed. Options to run the sites were advertised too late and with a bidding period that was too short, leaving little time for bidders – particularly community organisations – to submit strong proposals.”

“The public were offered no consultation – and we are concerned that local wildlife groups such as the Sussex Wildlife Trust, the South Downs Alliance and the Biosphere Partnership as well as ecologists and wildlife experts were not been invited to contribute their wealth of knowledge. Too much focus was put on financial viability, and not enough focus on social and ecological value.”

“Back in June Greens pushed the Labour council to look again at how to use these sites, proposing ‘rewilding’ as an option. We have since seen a massive demand from the public for rewilding for both sites, with a petition calling for this option gathering more than 5000 signatures in less than a month.”

“While we are glad that a bid has come forward to rewild the Waterhall site, we want to see the public given a greater say over how rewilding is done.  The tender process did not allow communities to share their thoughts on how this should be managed: but we want to see any rewilding project conducted to the highest standard. We believe strongly that an in-depth, year-long, ecological audit is needed so that this is done right.” 

“Ultimately, at this late stage, we urge the Labour Council to do more to engage with the community to get the right result – not rush through such an important decision.”
 

Councillor Clare Rainey said:

“These sites have the potential to offer so much to our local community, wildlife and natural environment. The Labour Council failed to consult with the community, and the subsequent rushed, decision making process represents a huge missed opportunity to make the most of these assets. With the company running the sites operating at a loss, Greens had pushed the council to commit to a more ambitious vision for Waterhall and Hollingbury.”

“As it stands, rather than take time to develop the best possible scenario for all, we are left with a botched process and no clarity over the future of the Holingbury site. The community will feel as if there are little options left to raise concerns. We urge the Labour Council to take on board the wishes of the community, to demand a high standard of rewilding at Waterhall – and to immediately review the decision on the Hollingbury site, with a pause if necessary to get it right.”

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