A Wirral golf club has slammed plans to turn greenbelt into pitches as “cruel, unfair and undemocratic.”
Keith Marsh, from Brackenwood Golf Club, said he was “very disappointed” Wirral Council had put forward a proposal again to create between eight and 12 playing pitches on the Brackenwood Golf Course near Bebington.
The golf course, one of 11 on the Wirral, was closed down in 2022 as part of sweeping budget cuts that year. Since then the golf club has been looking after it while Wirral Council decides whether to let the golf club take over or use it for something else.
The idea of sports pitches instead of a golf course was proposed in February but this was opposed by councillors who recommended the council negotiate the final terms of an agreement with the golf club to transfer the course while taking into account Wirral Council’s Local Plan.
Councillors have now been recommended to consider a proposal for pitches again, alongside improving biodiversity and community access as the Wirral has “a significant deficit of playing pitches across all sports.”
According to council sports pitch policy, there is currently a shortfall of 17 pitches in Wirral and while the golf course is considered greenbelt, Sport England has previously said pitch provision is not considered inappropriate development on greenbelt.
If land isn’t identified for new pitches, Wirral Council said it could put at risk the local authority’s brownfield first policy which looks to build houses on land already developed.
However Mr Marsh thinks the proposal for pitches again goes against the February vote, calling it “cruel, unfair, and undemocratic,” adding: “I do not know what they are playing at.”
He said, “It was clear in even the council’s own minutes that councillors made it clear they were not in favour of the council officer recommendations.”
He also went on to criticise council officers in the negotiations since February’s meeting accusing them of not being fair.
He said, “This has been a golf club for 88 years but I think that the council officers have not considered that at all. These people (volunteers) have maintained the golf course and I do not believe officers have negotiated in good faith.
“They have brought back the same recommendation. If it had changed significantly, but it’s exactly the same recommendation so what was the point of councillors voting last time? It’s like they are taking another bite at the cherry.”
A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “At this stage, no decisions have been made and members of the committee will be asked to consider the report.”
Mr Marsh said he would understand the arguments for increasing pitch provision more if there was evidence sports pitches were at capacity. He said, “That is certainly not the case, even councillors said they saw sports pitches empty across the borough. It just doesn’t make sense at all and it feels like we have been led down the garden path.”
A council report for the meeting said, “There are a limited number of such sites which can accommodate playing pitches in Wirral.
“Without identified land for new playing pitches, the Council will have significant difficulty in demonstrating that the Sport England requirement for new pitches to meet growth can be accommodated and as such planning applications on brownfield sites would not be policy compliant and could not be approved.
“This will add to the argument that Green Belt sites should be released as these locations can provide new pitches to meet the demand.”
Mr Marsh also thinks the pitch proposal will “create traffic chaos and the area where I live in Bebington into a car park,” adding: “The golf course is tucked into a residential area which is why the residents are so passionate about keeping it the way it is, and keeping it as an open green space for people.”
It’s understood any traffic plans or assessments as well as feasibility studies would be carried out if the pitch proposal was endorsed by the committee. The report said if councillors endorse using the golf course for pitches, Wirral Council will then seek external funding and develop a plan to implement the new pitches.
However, Mr Marsh said if the council goes ahead with the pitch plans, “it will play into the hands of people who say Wirral has a bad reputation of not listening to residents” comparing it to the controversy over Hoylake Beach.
Proposals to sell off Bromborough Civic Centre, demolish Woodchurch Leisure Centre, and transfer Hoylake Golf Course to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club will also be voted on at the same meeting.
Main image: Protestors at a February meeting against the proposal for sports pitches on Brackenwood Golf Course. Credit: Edward Barnes