The future of Brighton’s council-owned golf courses is provoking a strong debate as the clock ticks down to the deadline for bids.
The council wants to re-let the sites at Hollingbury and Waterhall, and is inviting bids for leisure or conservation uses.
But the city’s Liberal Democrats have called for the Hollingbury course to be used instead for much-needed affordable housing.
Ben Thomas, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Kemptown said: “We want the council to consider these proposals at committee before the current contract for the golf course ends on 31st March 2020 and for there to be public consultation about these ideas for mixed usage of the area.
“The provision of more affordable and social homes is vital for this city because without decent housing people don’t have a base from which to participate in the wider community.”
Beatrice Bass, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Hove and Portslade, said: “Over 15,000 people are stuck on the housing waiting list and experience waiting times between one or five years.
“It is clear that we need innovative ideas that provide more homes. These proposals would help to house up to 10% of the current waiting list whilst protecting our environment and meeting community recreation needs.
“The Hollingbury golf course is not meeting the needs of our city. It is operating at a loss, few people use it, its membership is declining and the area is currently of little ecological value.
“The council would further miss an opportunity to tackle the housing crisis if it allows the ground to be used for glamping. There is little demand for golf or glamping in this area, but we are facing a huge demand for housing.”
In a blog post published today, Jess Price, conservation officer for Sussex Wildlife Trust, argues the bidding process should be halted altogether and the council should instead “restore a precious area of ancient chalk downland”.
She said: “Hollingbury Park golf course sits within Wild Park Local Nature Reserve, whilst Waterhall golf course is within the Waterhall Local Wildlife Site and of course both are within the Living Coast Biosphere and the Council’s own Downland Estate.
“So I was pretty disheartened to see that the officer’s report that set out options to the Tourism, Development & Culture Committee back in June, was entirely focused on maintaining the sites for golf in the future with little mention of their biodiversity value and potential.
“I understand that finances are extremely challenging for local authorities, but given the climate and ecological emergencies we are all facing, this is a time for considering the long-term public benefits of decisions made now.
“Luckily some of the councillors on the committee from the Green Party also saw the potential and asked for an amendment. This requires officers to consider bringing the operation of both golf courses back in-house, with the option to convert one or both of the courses into a different type of leisure facility or environmental space.
“This means there is now a fantastic chance to consider the true potential of these sites for both people and wildlife. An alliance of local people, community groups and organisations, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, want BHCC to restore the sites, re-creating internationally rare chalk grassland and promoting community-led agriculture and free public access.
“The new lease will be for a minimum of 25 years, so this really is a once in a generation chance to restore a significant part of the Brighton downland estate.”