“Perhaps if we ignore it it’ll go away…”

In September 2015 BBC London Radio did a piece on the threat to the golf course on their breakfast show. During that piece Lewisham Councillor Rachel Onikosi confirmed that they would be interested in receiving any expressions of interest from Golf Operators to take on the golf course.

As a result of that Jeremy Sturgess, who co-owns Twigmarket Ltd which runs Trent Park Golf Club (amongst other courses) contacted Rachel to do just that.

What went wrong? Why has the golf course still closed, even though Twigmarket were offering Lewisham Council their “…strong interest in leasing and operating Beckenham Place Park Golf Course, Mansion and Grounds and restoring it to its former glory

Well, it seems that the only thing that went ‘wrong’ was anybody expressing an interest at all! In effect, Twigmarket called Lewisham Council’s bluff…

Here’s a summary timeline of the mail trail, from which we think you’ll see exactly what we mean:

Wednesday 16th September 2015
Radio Interview with Rachel Onikosi

Wednesday 16th September 2015
Jeremy Sturgess emails Rachel Onikosi expressing strong interest

Wednesday 30th September 2015
Jeremy Sturgess emails Rachel Onikosi requesting a response

Thursday 1st October 2015
Rachel Onikosi replies, promising “…a full response shortly

Tuesday 27th October 2015
Jeremy Sturgess emails Rachel Onikosi requesting a response

Monday 2nd November 2015
Rachel Onikosi emails Jeremy Sturgess, explaining that the contract with Glendale was “…extended two weeks ago for a further 12 months meaning that an 18 hole golf course will continue until end of December 2016

Thursday 5th November 2015
Jeremy Sturgess emails Rachel Onikosi, thanking her and reiterates “…we are very keen to enter discussions with you to try and safeguard the course and the Mansion…with an annual rent tba payable to Lewisham

Tuesday 29th December 2015
Rachel Onikosi emails Jeremy Sturgess, “Just to let you know that I will be coming back to you early in the New Year

Thursday 18th February 2016
Councillor Rachel Onikosi emails Lewisham Council officers Gavin Plaskitt and Alison Taylor, to ask about Jeremy’s offer, “Just trying to ascertain whether I need to get back to him

Monday 7th March 2016
Rachel Onikosi sends a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ email to Jeremy Sturgess, “Unfortunately, the Council cannot continue to operate /offer a golf facility within any of the parks in Lewisham in these current times…

Let’s quickly analyse those last two quotes from Rachel.

Firstly, “Just trying to ascertain whether I need to get back to him“. No professional quality level of work, particularly in the public domain, should ever include the option of NOT getting back to someone who was responding to a publicly made offer to entertain expressions of interest in bringing in money to the local public purse! (Indeed, it is the job of an elected councillor to scrutinise and hold to account the decisions of council employees.) So yes, Rachel, you should get back to him, much as you should have got back to him months previously were Lewisham Council GENUINELY interested in making the golf course a success in partnership with a golf operator.

Secondly, “Unfortunately, the Council cannot continue to operate /offer a golf facility within any of the parks in Lewisham in these current times” In what current times? The current times of austerity, where central government has made drastic cuts to the moneys available to local councils for parks management? Those current times? When, even in the face of such stringent cuts, Lewisham Council can afford to snub the opportunity of income from a long lease? What other ‘current times’ could she have meant?

This is Rachel Onikosi, not just a local councillor with the responsibility of getting the best deal for Lewisham (even if that means a result that isn’t one that her boss, Sir Steve Bullock, has asked for), but also a sitting magistrate on a South East London bench, a position which brings with it the responsibility of judging high standards of behaviour…on others.

In short, then, Twigmarket contacted Lewisham to express interest, then, after 173 days – nearly six months – of being chased (“in these current times” shouldn’t Lewisham have been chasing Twigmarket?!) were turned down.

No fact-finding phone calls, nor emails, nor invites for meetings from Lewisham to Twigmarket. No attempt to develop any kind of working relationship to see if this offer from Twigmarket could work for Lewisham tax payers and paying visitors to the park. No pro-activity, barely any reactivity. Just disinterest.

So in conclusion, when Lewisham Council claims that they were unable to find a golf operator to take on the golf course at Beckenham Place Park, just remember this mail trail above.