The Future of Bushey Country Club:
The meeting was attended by Dr Donald Graham, Chief Executive of Hertsmere Borough Council (HBC) together with two other senior executives, Cllr Morris Bright, Head of HBC and all eleven Bushey ward councillors.
Before starting the discussion Dr Graham, Cllr Bright and Philip Nowlan, the new Bushey Forum Chairman, all thanked those attending but also apologised to all those unable to get in to the Bushey Country Club main hall. With a limit of 150 people Bushey Forum thought that by arranging their AGM, even with the County Club closure on the agenda, all would be fine; how wrong we were! From all estimates at least 200 people were unable to get access to the meeting. Another meeting was fully committed by all parties to allow many more Bushey residents to both understand what has happened and be able to air their concerns. This meeting will be arranged as quickly as possible after the half term school break.
Dr Graham started with a brief presentation of the facts and outlined current situation and was followed by Cllr Bright. Both stated that they were happy to be quoted and what they said was on the record. The points that they both provided were as follows: –
• Hertsmere Leisure Trust started its contract with HBC in 2012. Bushey Country Club had losses of approximately £280,000 prior to this and had to be made a condition of the overall HBC contract. Losses continued and are now £685,000 for 2016/7 and have resulted in Hertsmere Leisure giving up and handing Bushey Country Club to the Council.
• HBC announced the closure on 5th January in a press release.
• Cllr Bright said that losses totally unsustainable by the council and £700,000 represented 10% of the council tax requirement.
• Some of the reasons behind the losses were given as –
o Nationwide decline in golf
o 9 hole golf courses in particular are being closed elsewhere
o Increasing fixed costs were outstripping recurring income
o Major competition from other local leisure facilities
o An aging facility
o Increased costs like the new minimum wage
• Both stated that NO decisions have been made as to what is going to happen at the site.
• HBC is committed to protecting the Green Belt.
• Measures are being put in to place to ensure that the site is secure from 1st April.
• Investigations are already happening to see how community services can be provided elsewhere in Bushey.
• Plans are already being made to increase/improve the gym facilities at Bushey Grove.
• There will now be a six-month consultation period to involve all interested parties in Bushey. The terms of reference for the consultation will be finalised at the HBC council meeting in early February.
• Cllr Paul Morris, Bushey Heath Ward, has been asked to lead a team to investigate all possible ways forward for the site. Cllr Morris has previously undertaken a similar role when campaigners opposed redevelopment plans for the Newberries car park site in Radlett.
Cllr Paul Morris took the floor and started by introducing the other ten Bushey Councillors. He would publicise asap how to communicate with consultation team but suggested that contact with ward councillors as a good point of contact anyway. Several key points he mentioned were: –
• It is vital for Bushey to have a central community hub.
• The open green space cannot be lost.
• There is no support for encroachment
• Some form of development on the ‘brown field’ part of the site is certainly possible
Cllr Morris then concluded by asking for volunteers with skills to help during the consultation.
Mark Young stepped forward to volunteer as an ex manager of the Bushey Country Club and as the current manager of the South Buckinghamshire and Farnham Leisure facility. He agreed that 9-hole golf courses are no longer viable and suggested that sports such as cycling could be made available on the green space. His major point was that HBC should subsidise the facility to keep it open during the consultation period. No such commitment was made so an outstanding suggestion.
The questions that followed fall in to two categories:
What has happened and why:
How has the facility been allowed to make such losses over such a long period? Dr Graham – the facility has always made losses. Even in 2012 closure was tabled but Hertsmere Leisure agreed to take it on and try to make it work.
Margaret Howard – what has caused the losses?
Note: there were several other questions all centred on what has happened and where are the costs so that we can see what are the underlying causes. Dr Graham – could not answer the question.
Why did we find out when and how we did, so late? Dr Graham – discussions had been ongoing between HBC and Hertsmere Leisure in late 2017 as to the serious situation. The decision was known by end of 2017 and was planned for public communication during January 2018. The staff were to be consulted first.
Cllr Bright – the council executive were aware at the end of 2017 but the decision was taken to announce in January. A leak on Facebook was mentioned but the press release was public on 5th January.
Philip Nowlan – new Chairman of Bushey Forum Stated that he would submit a Freedom of Information request regarding the finances of the Bushey Country Club. Financial reports from Hertsmere Leisure are in the public domain at Companies House.
What is going to happen:
Steven Rinder – will you commit to no housing development on the site? Dr Graham – HBC cannot make such a commitment. Yes, several interested parties had approached the council. Confirmed that no decisions have been made.
The meeting ran out of time but Dr Graham, Cllr Bright and Philip Nowlan all committed to second meeting to be arranged as quickly as possible. The new venue will allow many more people to attend and now knowing the type of questions that are on the table Bushey residents will expect much more detailed responses as to what has happened. Also Bushey residents want to know how to access community facilities from 1st April plus an outline of the approach to be taken to protect the green belt and community facilities in the long term.
The date and venue of the second meeting will be published it as soon as it is confirmed.