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The community can SAVE CLEEVE HILL GOLF COURSE. But don’t expect Tewkesbury Borough Council or any local politicians to do it on their own

September 9, 2020 2 comments

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.

Our Politicians are failing us over flooding, but this is nothing new. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is simply the method they use to prioritise everything they do

November 14, 2019 Leave a comment

 

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Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

It’s now 12 years since the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods.

The people living and working in Villages and Towns around mid and Northern Gloucestershire and South Worcestershire experienced the worst that inland flooding can throw at us – and for a great many even more, when critical infrastructure was affected and the drinking water supply dried up as result.

Nobody could argue that the impact of the event did not come to the attention and supposed scrutiny of Westminster Politicians at the time. Pictures of RAF Rescue Helicopters winching stranded people to safety whilst hovering against the backdrop of the Cotswold Hills quickly caught international attention. I stood outside the Local Council Offices when then newly appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived.

At the time, within the immediacy of the flooding event itself, it felt like the powers that be simply couldn’t do enough.

But the moment that the floodwaters receded, the RAF had returned their big yellow flying machines to their bases and tap water supplies were restored, the media’s and therefore the attention of the politicians with the real power to do something meaningful simply drifted off to elsewhere and beyond.

Yes, remedial flood protection work took place here and there – especially in places that are very much in the wider public’s eye.

But the changes made in response to the Floods that year were in many ways little more than being aesthetic.

There was then and has been since no change in the way that Politicians, Government and the Agencies address the causes, influences upon and effects of flooding across the UK – despite many similar experiences for other people and communities across the Country that have already happened and are taking place in Yorkshire and the East Midlands today.

What was clear to me as a Local Councillor at the time of the 2007 Floods here, was that the Environment Agency wasn’t fit for purpose; that flooding was and always would be managed on the basis of so-called tried and tested thinking. And worst of all, that there was absolutely no room for new approaches or original thinking to deal with the problem as the specialists and those who possess the fiefdoms that are public sector responsibility would always know best – no matter what the reality and impact upon real people was or would be that was involved.

Nothing has changed.

If anything, things have got worse.

And whilst processes and procedures to deal the impact upon families that have to move out of their homes and perhaps live in caravans as a result for many months now appear to have become normalised, the fact that Government has concentrated only on managing the effects of any flooding crisis at the time, rather than dealing with the causes and what lies ahead should be telling us all that we really need to know.

Flooding isn’t a vote winner when there’s no water on the ground

With the shallow, self-serving politicians that we have in power today, the harsh reality we must all face is that in their majority, Politicians and the Political Parties that they represent are not interested in seeing any task through from start to finish, unless they believe that doing so will secure them more votes.

What our Emergency Services, our Military, and the people on the ground will do in Yorkshire and the East Midlands during the current crisis to help people will not be an issue in Westminster once the water has gone and this ridiculous General Election Campaign has passed by.

Addressing the issues that count and will make a difference – that’s Planning Policy, responding to the Housing Crisis, how we address Climate Change and the way that the Public Sector itself actually works, are not and never will be on the agenda for longer than it remains in the news. Or at least not until we have politicians with very different motives and people-first mindset involved.

Planning Policy

Many people don’t understand that Local Authorities don’t make planning law. They just interpret it.

And with rules that come from the centre – rules that sound great because they seem to consider this and sound great because they appear to consider that – we have all been misled into believing that a one-size-fits-all approach to the way that we build in all locations, environments and conditions across this Country can work out for everyone wherever they are in the same way – even with different people with different motives doing the interpretation that is involved.

There is no room within the Planning System for local understanding and anecdotal evidence to be considered.

For instance, the Planning System is itself so arbitrary that floodplains that have been built up and covered with dumped earth and inert debris then qualify as being safe to build on. Yet there is no consideration for the displacement of floodwaters that would have historically rested at that location. Nor is there though given for how that water might flow around this newly created island or indeed what other properties or places would now be affected by what will be both a new and at time of flooding inevitably different water flow.

For the impact of future flooding events to be limited for existing properties, Towns, Cities and Villages to the same levels and impact that they are having right now, Planning rules and the way that we interpret them must change to embrace the increasing likelihood of the black swans, rather than the imbedded mentality of ‘it couldn’t happen here’.

Unswerving technical adherence to manmade rules doesn’t allow for reach and impact of Mother Nature.

Solving problems without creating others must be a priority for all areas of civic life and activity.

The response to the Housing Crisis

 Yet another of the political footballs that is currently being bounced around is the topic of which Political Party will build more houses and how quickly they will build them if they should find themselves in power once the Election question has been resolved.

The myth that we need to build so many new houses evaporates the very moment that you consider how much they actually cost.

How often have you seen house prices drop in any part of this Country when a new estate or development has been built?

The truth is that prices of old and new property in the local areas usually rise and like most things where prices and need can be manipulated, profit and therefore greed are the underlying cause.

Building at the levels we have already embraced is already creating a time bomb for potential flooding incidents that would never have had this kind of impact in the past – especially with planning policy as it is.

There needs to be a massive rethink and politicians who were thinking about the people they represent would certainly bring this foolish and ill considered approach to the problem to an immediate stop.

The way to deal with the housing crisis is to make better and more equitable use of the houses and buildings that we already have.

It isn’t helpful to pretend that the only solution is to keep on building more and more, whilst creating many more real ones than the hollow one that it is supposed to solve.

Climate Change

Yes, Climate Change or the Climate Crisis that our young people are now beginning to champion and the way of thinking that they are challenging is a very real part of the flooding problem too.

The weather in this Country and around the World is changing – no matter what your views might be about the cause.

The cold hard reality that we all have to face is that the weather patterns that are here today will take many years to reverse.

But there are steps that we can take to address their progression and pathway to becoming worse.

It is not simply about legislating to change the behavior of people who are already trying to make the best of what can be very difficult lives.

This is where the inexperience and impractical idealism of young people could easily be seen to make a valid argument that is beneficial to us all seem outwardly very wrong. Like Flooding events, protests soon disappear from the minds and plans of the wrong politicians and that is the truth – no matter how wrong.

Sadly, with Climate Change, much of the problem is again about money and greed.

The businesses that have the biggest part to play just need to be led to think differently and see that the profit which is their obsession is still there for them tomorrow as it is for them today. It will just come from them investing, operating and behaving ethically in a very different way.

Industry and money might not be listening now, but that will be different when we have different people in charge.

The necessity of political change that wont be served simply by having a General Election

The complexity of the problems that are contributing to the Housing Crisis, the failure of Planning Policy, Climate Change and Flooding as an issue in its own right will never be dealt with in the way that it needs to be by politicians who are only interested in the outcome of the next Election and how they convince all of us to give them their vote.

If we want the change that we need with the issues that we are facing not just like Flooding, but which we are experiencing each and every day, we must elect different people into Parliament, our Councils and into positions of power who will put people first. Politicians who know what it will take and – most importantly – are actually prepared to do everything necessary to get all of those things that need doing – and not just Brexit – done.

 

 

 

 

 

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