Waterhall Golf Course set to be re-wilded

Posted On 08 Jan 2020 at 4:40 pm


A council-owned golf course is set to be restored to chalk grasslands.

The lease for Waterhall and Hollingbury Park Golf Courses were put up for tender after membership numbers at both courses fell ahead of operator Mytime Active’s lease ending in March this year.

Among the possible options suggested by the council were glamping, other leisure uses or re-wilding – and bids for all these plus housing and keeping it as a golf course were received.

Now, councillors are being asked to approve leasing Waterhall to an unnamed community interest company so it can be re-wilded.

Meanwhile, more information is being sought from a bidder for the lease for Hollingbury Park Golf Course, who is seeking to continue its use as a golf course alongside the development of the clubhouse for other leisure activities.

In a report going before next week’s tourism committee, the council’s head of sport and leisure Ian Shurrock said the chalk grasslands and scrub would be restored by ceasing fertiliser applications, introducing green hay from neighbouring sites, managing the scrub and temporary grazing with livestock such as sheep or cattle.

It said: “The proposal is that the site will act as a wildlife corridor connecting the adjoining
wildlife sites on council land overseen by the Friends of Waterhall, bringing a net
gain to all of these sites.

“An access plan would be agreed with the council to ensure that public access is maintained while ensuring that there is not a negative impact on wildlife and the conservation of the area.

“In particular it will be important to ensure that all dogs walked in the area are kept under control and potentially on leads. The site is currently used extensively by commercial dog walkers with numerous dogs at any one time and this would need to be carefully managed to ensure suitable and compatible use.”

After about four years, the current green keeping building would be replaced with an education centre to host school trips, volunteering days and family events, which would help fund the scheme.

The rest would be funded by the leaseholder, supported by Countryside Stewardship grants.

The closure of the Waterhall golf club would lead to the loss of three jobs.

If the golfing bid for the Hollingbury Park Course proceeded and was successful, it’s anticipated the eight members of staff there would transfer to the new operator- but this would need to be done by April 1 this year.

If this is not done, those staff would be made redundant and the site mothballed at a cost of £98,000 per year.

The report adds: “At present the council receives a payment from the management contractor to operate both courses.

“To continue to solely operate Hollingbury Park Golf Course, Mytime Active would require a significant payment from the council and therefore this option has not been recommended.”

The report says that since the sites were put out to tender, membership at Hollingbury Park had increased by 20% from 271 to 325, but fallen from 94 members to 88 at Waterhall.

Both sites attracted 75 enquiries, but only 15 actual bids were placed.

There were six for Hollingbury Park (three of which were for golf, one a bike park, one part burial ground, part nine-hold golf course and one for camping), and six for Waterhall (two rewilding, one bike park, one farming, one outdoor activity centre and one for a water sports park).

There were also three bids for both sites, one for golf and two for rewilding.

As well as Mr Shurrock’s report, the committee is also due to receive three petitions, one to keep Hollingbury Park Golf Course, one to keep Waterhall Golf Club and one to turn both into a “haven for wildlife and wellbeing.”

The first petition, which was signed by 2,401 people is being presented by Matt Shimmans and says: “As one the last 2 municipal golf courses it is important Hollingbury continues to exist as a golf club, providing affordable and accessible golf to local residents.

“The course is already a thriving club with opportunity for further improvement and is also resident to a local junior golf business helping bring a new generation of local residents in to the game.”

The second, signed by 264 people, is being presented by Denis Jenkins. It says: “Waterhall Golf Course is a public course, because of its unique natural drainage it can still be played when most other courses in Sussex cannot.”

The third, signed by 2315 people, is being presented by Claudia Fisher of Extinction Rebellion, calls for the council to “assess the environmental resources of both sites before committing to any long-term business arrangements”.

  1. Rob Heale Reply

    The Council should consider using the part of the Hollingbury Golf Course for mixed “Eco” Social Homes and Leisure, including allotments. The rest of the area could then be preserved and protected. We need more Affordable and Social Homes and if this is planned well and consulted about, such a mixed usage could improve the quality of life for many hundreds of people whilst enhancing the environment.

  2. Pam Smith Reply

    No, no. We do not need new homes on this lovely part of the South Downs. Before considering building anywhere new the council needs to get on and develop the site on Preston Road opposite the far end of Preston Park which is an eyesore and has stood empty for 30 years. This is a large site and a scandal that it has been left derelict for so long.

  3. Mark henderson Reply

    I think that waterhall as a golf course is perfectly situated and should not be re-wilded.The membership no.s are inaccurate due to the uncertainty of what is actually happening. The course drains easily in bad weather where other courses close. I had hoped that it would be made into a private GC. All it needs is little investment and it would match other private courses nearby.

  4. Martyn Reply

    I would suggest that more than 3 jobs will be lost at Waterhall… 3 full time, yes, but others will suffer dramatically too, with no redundancy offers

  5. George Hoare Reply

    For many years Waterhall unfortunately has not been a successful golf course. There are few members and not many green fee players. I feel sad about this as it was the course I first played at over 30 years ago. I think it is a difficult course to maintain. One disadvantage is that the course isn’t suitable for buggies and that doesn’t make it attractive for golfers who need the assistance of of a buggy to play a round of golf. It is quite a hilly course. The clubhouse although quite substantial offers very little apart from light refreshments before or after a round of golf.

    Hollingbury Park Golf Club is a totally different picture and would be a great lose to the city if it were no longer a golf course. It is an attractive course and once was used for pro-am competitions. Golfers use it all year around as drainage through the chalk is far superior to any course in Sussex. Far better than Waterhall. The course is used by many golfers across the age range. In particular throughout the winter season it is visited by many golfers from other clubs whose own courses are waterlogged and unplayable. The clubhouse itself is a much used facility for golfers and the wider community. Everyday it seems to be busy with training courses or conferences for local businesses. Indeed there are many functions in the evenings and weekends ranging from wedding receptions, birthday parties and monthly Sunday roasts. For members and non-members alike it is a true community hub providing a much loved social centre.

    I consider golf to be one of a range of sporting facilities that should be available to residents of any city alongside swimming, tennis, leisure centres, football etc. Healthy activities for all interests should be made available. Playing golf is known to be a good way to keep healthy and cater for people’s well-being. In Brighton the residents are fortunate to have a club such as Hollingbury.

    Before passing comment people need to go to the course and experience what it offers and meet the regular golfers who come from all walks of life. Hollingbury offers golf at a reasonable price all year around. Other courses in the area are expensive and quite often unplayable.

    I see no sense in re-wilding both courses. Obviously introducing animals such as sheep etc would limit the use of the space for dog walkers and hikers. Talk of more allotments seem to me unnecessary as even the one close to Hollingbury seems to have many unused and abandoned plots.

    I didn’t really expect this comment to be so long so I apologise for that but I feel so strongly that Hollingbury Golf course should remain as it is.

    • gilbert bligh Reply

      You’ve made many good points and are quite right about Hollingbury.
      The one thing you didn’t mention was the fantastic views over Brighton.
      It also does not make sense to close both courses as the users at Waterhall could transfer to Hollingbury, at least in the short term to see if it becomes more viable.

  6. Graham Townsend Reply

    I believe Golf Courses are a good way of keeping healthy &should be kept, I am 80 years old if it wasn’t for golf I would just sit at home & vegitate. Surely the Couses should bring in an income for the Council, I do not belong to this golf course so don’t know much about how it is run, but I think all these activities should be encouraged.

  7. Mary Jeffery Reply

    I’ve walked my dogs at waterfall for as long as I can remember even as a child with my family it would be a shame to close it off or to have to have your dogs on leads as they enjoy the freedom of running & playing in the woods.
    I’ve have bumped into many dog walkers over the years & found them very friendly & always keep an eye on theirs dogs they clear up after the dogs in their care is it fair to ask them to keep their dogs on leads.

  8. Polly Charlton Reply

    I really hope that the council will consider the long term health & environmental benefits for our city by engaging with regenerative management that supports Downland biodiversity at a time when they have declared a Climate Emergency – is there a way this could work alongside the golf courses? I am a local resident to Hollingbury Golf Course & urge the council to consider this.

  9. Andrew Reply

    Just moved back to Hove in October and i was looking forward to playing golf at Waterhall in the spring. I signed a petition to keep Hollingbury but never even realised Waterhall is endangered too. A lovely place. Please seriously rethink any plans to close it the course.

  10. Don Reply

    One option could be to make Waterhall into a 6 hole course, the holes to the right of the road that lead to the clubhouse. This could prove popular with those golfers who have limited time for a round, whilst allowing plans for re wilding for the rest of the site.
    Hollingbury should be left alone, there are few courses in the area that allow play all year round.

  11. Zoe Reply

    Money could be used for eco homes and saving the trees.

  12. K.Haynes Reply

    I am not sure which nature sites wouold be connected by the proposed wildlife corridor for Waterhall golf course. The course is bounded by managed grazing land, cultivated land, a substantial pheasant shoot and rugby and football fields.
    The course is certainly no green desert. it supports a wider variety of flora and fauna than generally exists on much of the South Downs. With
    plenty of existing cover, deer are frequently seen as are stoats and adders. Less common birdlife flourishes with nesting green woodpeckers, yellow hammers, whitethroat and hunting kestrels and buzzards. The fairways (chalk grassland) are not chemically treated and (increasing rare) cowslips, woody nightshade and common spotted and purple orchids all grow on the course, with blackberries. sloes and mushrooms fairly
    abundant in the autumn.
    The course has been functioning for almost a century when it was gifted to Brighton by a local farmer stipulating for this use only. It has remained for this long period a much more affordable course for Brighton`s citizens with a current ethnically diverse membership. Closure
    will mean that golf membership for some will simply be unaffordable when the alternatives are private clubs with a more elitist profile.
    Dog walkers currently use the course on a daily basis and there is footgolf available to add a further dimension.With it`s outstanding drainage golf is playable all year round when other local courses are not.
    An annual event over the last 30 years has been a charity weekend for the benefit of the Brighton Heart Foundation which has raised over £100,000
    for the local community.
    All in all, I firmly believe that the Council re-consider what the Community Interest Company is proposing. I suspect that many signatories
    to the XR petition will never have walked the course and do not understand it`s diverse nature and the health benefits it provides to its
    many users. Their view is faddish and the re-wilding proposal will have
    no effect on climate change and little benefit to local wildlife.

  13. Simon Reynolds Reply

    I have just retired with the dream of finally being able to play more golf. I have played at Hollingbury off and on for 40 years and have been a member in the past. I was going to join in the Spring and would be sad to see this course close as there are few options for people of a limited income. My pension would not stretch to the private courses nearby.
    Golf is a great way to maintain fitness as well as keep the mind healthy by making new like-minded friends

  14. Martin warden Reply

    Hollingbury park golf course should be run by the council at least for the next 3years , at the end it this period the council would have a much clearer picture,Brighton is turning into a concrete jungle and we need places like hollingbury golf course fantastic place to play and fantastic views it is very affordable unlike a lot of courses in Sussex , if it is just left to rewild it’s my understanding that it would cost the council in the region ninety thousand a year plus, l am positive over the next 3 years membership will increase at Hollingbury

  15. PETER DAVIES Reply

    I live very close to Hollingbury Golf Course and would be devastated if we lose this very important public amenity. The site is shared by all, including dog wakers, ramblers, joggers, bird watchers,and families just out for a walk. Ive seen ham radio enthusiasts, summer solstice celebrants in the summer and it is used by sledgers and skiers when it snows.
    You can see all sorts of wildlife up there including mice, rabbits and the stoats thatfeed on them. If you like birdwatching, you can see all sorts of interesting types including the Wheatears who rest on the fort ontheir migration inland from overseas. I even remember the parakeets that lived there in the 70S AND 80S.
    The course is unique in that the site is shared by everyone, which is not common with golf clubs. It is a true community asset which is well used.
    Having said that, i am sure that there is scope for some tree planting wherever it is possible and some sort of compromise could be reached in order to appease ER whos cause is just, but maybe misplaced.

  16. Peter Challis Reply

    1. How much extra carbon capture (quantitatively) will re-wilding achieve vs. total city generation?
    2. How much revenue will the city lose by removing the golf course (is it a good investment vs. tree planting) ?
    3. I thought that the city has already imposed a pesticide ban on council owned land, so how will this change improve biodiversity?

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