I was deeply saddened to read the news this week that Cleeve Hill Golf Club is set to close at the end of March 2021.
Reading the comments on the Facebook Page Save Cleeve Hill Golf Course that has been set up to try and save this well-known local community resource, I could feel the passion and frustration that is already tangible amongst a great many people, whilst from a very different perspective understand fully why the decision and circumstances that are publicly known today will come across as being so unfair.
Those of you who know me will be aware that Cleeve Common occupies a very special part of my family history. My father Chris was the Warden of the Common for some 15 years up until shortly before his death in early 2006 and I am a regular walking visitor myself, having only been for a circular walk with my new pup early this past Sunday morning.
I was also a Tewkesbury Borough Councillor for 8 years and Chair of the Licensing Committee for 4 of them. Whilst I don’t agree with the conclusions or views from the Council I have read publicly, I am well aware of how such decisions these days will have been reached and what factors are likely to have motivated them.
On the Council’s side of the ‘problem’, the current Leaseholder has given notice or taken the opportunity not to renew the Lease (Which regrettably makes a lot of sense). The Council has commissioned a report that says the Golf Club and Course isn’t commercially viable. The Council has concluded that the Clubhouse is beyond a sensible cost for renewal and repair.
But it’s what the Council isn’t saying publicly about their longer-term plans for the Clubhouse site which should really be the starting point for any public interest about the way the decision has been reached – especially in such challenging times for the hospitality and leisure industries.
With the prospect of such a well-known public facility about to be closed, everyone with an interest in Cleeve Hill and the Golf Club has the right to be sure that there isn’t some hidden agenda or longer-term plan at work that is being sold to us as something else as it is convenient and politically expedient to do so right now.
Tewkesbury Borough Council would do well to formally assure the Public immediately that there isn’t any plan for the value of the Clubhouse site to be realised in the future by allowing private development to take place in a process that will benefit the Council financially or in some other way.
To be fair to Tewkesbury Borough, ALL Councils are struggling financially for a range of reasons. Some are local and of their own making. But many are handed to them by the Westminster Government and are therefore not theirs to own.
Right across Local Government, Councillors and Officers have simply lost sight of the fact that they are there to manage public assets like these in our best interests and that Councils are not a business that they can or should even try to run like it is something that they personally own.
Meanwhile, on the Public side of ‘debate’, Cleeve Hill Golf Course is a community asset. Golf Courses are popular and financially viable all around the Cotswolds and the Gloucestershire area. The Course is a landmark and part of our local history and is arguably unique. The Golf course could be better utilised to give local people – and especially young people more constructive things to do.
But the numbers of fee-paying players who go through the Clubhouse and on to a Course like Cleeve Common, in this state and in this location is probably smaller that it may to appearances seem.
The Clubhouse itself is not used regularly in the way that it could be by significant numbers of local people as a pub or destination, and certainly not now during these times that the Government response to Coronavirus continues. Could you really look back to cold, dark misty winter nights on Cleeve Hill and say that this is somewhere that you would then definitely want to be?
Painful as it is to write, the reality is that Tewkesbury Borough Council has already indicated that it will not subsidise the Golf Course. We must all be big enough to recognise that there is a case to be argued that if the Council were going to subsidise anything, there are likely to be other public services that local Public money should be used to prioritise within the local community first.
Equally however, none of us would knowingly invest money in any project that would not command a realistic return. With the cost of modernising and refitting the Clubhouse likely to be the reason why the Council’s Consultants have concluded that it would be better to pull it down, you might begin to see that the Council would probably want to have any investment returned in full in what might be little more than a ten-year period.
Put it this way, if the work considered necessary to re-let the Clubhouse and Course commercially were £400,000.00 up front, the £769.23 per week repayment cost before interest, added to the existing c.£1000.00 per week rental fee would simply make the prospect of taking on the project commercially absurd, when you put it into the perspective of the impact of Coronavirus, The Lockdown and everything else.
Whilst what I have written above is intended merely as a quick guide of the likely mechanics of what is going on, it certainly doesn’t make the decision or any of the unseen influences upon it feel in any way right.
What it does do is suggest strongly that petitions and banging on the doors of Councillors and the Tewkesbury and Cheltenham MPs will ultimately prove not to be enough to yield any meaningful fruit – no matter how sympathetic they or any other local person of influence may be minded to be about saving the Clubhouse and the Course.
If you genuinely want to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course, the community made up of people with an interest in using it will need to come up with an alternative solution to the one that our local Councillors and the Officers that advise them have tabled.
It will have to be one that really works.
It is likely that the Golf Course and the Golf Clubhouse can and will only be saved by a community based, not-for-profit approach such as a social enterprise.
Any kind of commercial or ‘profit-making’ approach without a ridiculous amount of risk and accepted loss is extremely unlikely to be viable in any way.
Whether right or wrong, the starting point for any valid discussion with the Council would be the general understanding and acceptance on the part of everyone who wants to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course that the only thing that can be expected as a minimum will be the good will of the Council to keep the Golf Course open as a Public Community Asset. There must be recognition that any acceptable plan is unlikely to have any additional financial cost to the Council involved.
Crowdfunding is an option to cover remedial work and repairs – especially as the site and location is so popular. This project would have significant attraction if it was marketed just right.
But if there is a genuine will amongst the local community to not only save Cleeve Hill Golf Club and the Clubhouse, but to actually see it thrive, then everyone who wants to see it open and there to use will also have to be both a user and evangelist of the facilities that are on offer. Everyone must make sure that no matter whether they are golfers, a youth group or a local group of ramblers, the operating company that takes over runs and promotes the whole thing and manages this fabulous community asset as both a facility and experience that is accessible to all and is open and ready year-round for everyone to use.
There isn’t much time. To save this resource, a sensible and non-combative dialogue needs to begin with Tewkesbury Borough Council right now, so that the Council has the chance to make clear what they can and can’t do. The Community will then be better placed to consider, put together and then table a proposal and take the steps necessary that might then lead to a 2021 win-win for users, the Council and of course, most if not all of those who are currently facing the loss of their jobs.
The people who use and love the Golf Course and the Common may not have the skills and experience to tackle this issues and drive forward as individuals alone.
But working together, it is almost certain that all of the skills, experience and motivation necessary to save Cleeve Hill Golf Course already exists.