Under Lewisham Council’s Stewardship

So Lewisham Council seems to be getting its way with the Beckenham Place Park golf course closure.

But please, don’t let them con you in to thinking that they had no choice, that it was in some way inevitable, out of their hands, and that they were the victims of the downturn in golf participation.

Lewisham Council was quietly content with the golf course back when it was bringing in lots of easy money, but then seemingly clueless when the profit started to drop. Did they try to analyse why this fall in popularity was happening at BPP? Did they genuinely try restore their fortunes by reinvigorating interest in the course (after all, if they did, they’d bring in lots of money again to help maintain the park and so make better use of the council tax payer’s pounds)?

No. All they seemed to do was let it slide in to disrepair and tattiness. Happy to take in the money, but then seemingly bemused when they started to make a loss.

To be fair, this is a slight simplification. A few years ago Lewisham did tender for a golf operator, but with a proposed contract that included taking on the mansion house and homesteads, but this was a stipulation that only the Donald Trumps of this world might have been able to swallow. Hardly a surprise that this tender produced no interest. Did this occur to anyone at Lewisham that this might be the cause of no interest? After all, Bromley MyTime seem to be doing very well with nearby courses such as Bromley Golf Course, and High Elms. Perhaps they should ask them what could be done to make the course a financial success again. No. Apparently not.

But why not? Did they wonder why numbers were falling? Why did did they not be proactive in their management of the course? Why did they create a tender that no sensible golf operator would sign up to? Why didn’t they ask to meet industry experts to garner opinion on whether the course could be profitable? And when they did receive a recent (as in the last 13 months) expression of interest – an expression that included taking on the mansion – why did they ignore it, then reject it without even engaging with the operator to find out more about what they were proposing and how it might work for Lewisham Council?

The clue, is in the following collection of photographs.

Before we get to the first of these photos, let me give you a little context. I started playing golf in February 2010, and played my first round at Beckenham Place Park on 16th March the same year. In that time, the overall condition of the course has always been poor, and these photographs of the bunkers, and the practice nets, while they were taken only yesterday (30th October 2016), reflect the state of them over the past 6+ years.

This is typical of the bunkers across the course. Largely unraked (many are not raked at all), and full of weeds, grass, and stones.


This sunnier photo was taken on the 6th August 2016, just to show that the weeds are not a recent phenomenon.

You’ve just paid £28 to play, but you want to warm up first. If you manage to even spot these practice nets, they’re actually unusable. Would you feel like you were a valued customer? Would you feel like you were getting your money’s worth? Would you return?

A few years ago the golf shop staff were ‘let go’, shortly after that the shop itself was shut down. The café staff are lovely, and there were some gloves and balls and other accessories on sale, but no clubs, no clothes, no professional golfing staff meant the place felt less-and-less like a golf course. With the old entrance shuttered down like that the casual visitor would be forgiven for thinking the course was already closed.

20161030_131804Still, at least there are outside toilet facilities for golfers and non-golfing visitors alike, according to this untidy looking old sign.

…until you get to the toilet block that the sign refers to, and find it boarded up. It’s been like this for years, but the tatty sign is still there, dutifully pointing to the out-of-use building that it’s been referring to all that time.

So this is Lewisham Council’s legacy. Years of neglect and mismanagement. Again, don’t let them trick you in to thinking this is all terribly unfortunate, or that they’re ‘restoring public heritage’ with the golf course closure (which is a lie anyway, as the golf course was in place when the park was handed over to the public realm). The evidence is clear, they have, or at least Mayor Bullock has, wanted rid of the golf course for many years. They’ve used the old local council trick of running the facility in to the ground in order to reduce its popularity to justify its closure, then claim they’re “taking it back” and making it a “park for all”.

Of course it’s already a park for all, but, just as the likes of Trump and Farage have done, they like to make people feel as if they’re being denied something by a small group of people, but that they will be able to rescue them from such injustice (“taking it back”), in this case by opening the park to members of the public…even though it’s already open to the public, even though golfers are also members of the public (not a sinister race apart), even though the golf course was given to the public rather than imposed upon the public and thus denying the public (or ‘taking the park away’).

And yet, and yet, despite all this, the golfers of Braeside Golf Club, Beckenham Golf Club, families who have played here over generations, local retirees, and many other casual golfers, continue to come to the course, hand over their money, and so support the golf course and the wider park, and support the general aim of increasing usage of the park. But how do Lewisham Council show their respect for this income stream? They don’t. They just wring their hands, shed some crocodile tears, and dismiss a petition of over 7,000 signatures as “misinformed”.

And then close the golf course, even though golfing attendance at the course has been increasing over the last two years or so, to replace it with features that don’t produce income, and in the case of the lake will cost a great deal to maintain.

This is Labour local ‘we know best’ politics at its worst: They made their minds up years ago.