Hopes Brackenwood Golf Course could reopen following council meeting

A Wirral golf course threatened with closure could yet reopen amid scenes likened to a “pantomime.”

Brackenwood golf course in Bebington was closed last year as part of sweeping budget cuts made by Wirral Council. Bromborough Civic Centre and Hoylake golf course were also closed while Woodchurch Leisure Centre was proposed for demolition.

Since then, there has been the possibility for all four to be moved into company or community hands with takeover bids put forward. However, only Hoylake Golf Course was proposed to move to the next stage of this process.

Brackenwood was proposed to be turned into sports pitches, Bromborough sold off, and Woodchurch to be demolished. All three proposals were opposed by both the public and by councillors.

However, Brackenwood may have been given a new lease of life as members agreed the club could re-enter negotiations over its long-term future. Proposals to repurpose it as sports pitches had been criticised heavily earlier this year, branded by club members as “cruel, unfair, and undemocratic.”

At a meeting of Wirral Council’s tourism, communities, culture and leisure committee on Thursday, dozens of protestors turned out, largely over Brackenwood, urging councillors to “not take this decision to destroy it.”

Protestors outside Birkenhead Town Hall over the Brackenwood Golf Course pitch proposal. Credit: Edward Barnes

Speaking to the LDRS, Ann Edwards, the Ladies’ captain, said, “It means so much. It’s not just a golf course. It’s a place for friendship, especially over Covid times for people’s mental health and wellbeing, to play golf and support each other through tough times.”

She said it had been a hard battle to try and reopen the course, adding: “To have it taken away is just ridiculous really.”

Council officers said the pitches were needed to satisfy Sports England, a government body, when it came to Wirral Council’s draft local plan. This is because any new developments need to prove there are facilities to support them including sports pitches.

Another issue was the lease proposed for the golf club handover would extend beyond the council’s local plan which only runs to 2037. This meant if the council did need the land in future for things like pitches, it would be unavailable.

Nevertheless, the pitch proposal drew criticism from councillors who had rejected it previously. Cllr Jenny Johnson said: “I don’t understand why we are here again. This group has worked on biodiversity net gain for you, they have worked on community benefit.

“They have given you everything you have asked of them. You’ve had four months to explore where potential pitches could go if they were going to give up any of their potential land for this.”

She added, “This is a democratic decision. We are listening to so many people in our locality who absolutely want to see this retained as a golf course. I’ve heard nothing, I’ve heard nobody suddenly wanting this to be transformed into playing pitches.” This prompted applause from the audience.

Committee chair, Cllr Helen Cameron, said while she agreed, the issue needed to be explored fully otherwise the council’s senior policy and resources committee could “just roll it back.” She also said officers had to make a recommendation when there had been little movement in negotiations.

Members agreed Brackenwood golf club would re-enter negotiations with council officers to thrash out final terms should they take over the site. This could include added conditions of sports pitch or tennis court provision as well as a rent increase.

Credit: Edward Barnes

On Bromborough,  two bids will progress to the next stage which will come to a meeting in July while Woodchurch’s future is expected to be decided by the policy and resources committee on 12 July. Development of a business plan with Royal & Ancient and Royal Liverpool Golf Club will continue at Hoylake, with new playing pitches and increasing biodiversity included.

The meeting at times was described as a “pantomime” and “a tad ridiculous” as Cllr Cameron accused Labour councillors of trying to influence the committee over Woodchurch.

Cllrs Jean Robinson, Janette Williamson, and Liz Grey spoke as members of the public over the leisure centre arguing the committee had not been given enough information.

Cllr Grey said, “How can we be discussing demolition of a once loved community asset that as recently as 2018 was being heralded as a future aquatics centre of excellence? We surely can’t agree to demolish without information as to why and what the consequences will be.”

Cllr Robinson said the committee hadn’t seen the business plans put forward, adding, “There isn’t that information here this evening which I feel is a bit unfair and you can’t make your decision based on a report.” She felt the right decision wouldn’t be taken because of this.

In response, Cllr Cameron said, “You have just really tried to join a committee” calling it “inappropriate.” Warning other councillors, she said, “Don’t start lecturing this committee because you have information we haven’t seen.”

Cllr Williamson then accused Cllr Cameron of being “exceptionally rude tonight,” adding, “It’s a shame that you didn’t extend the same courtesy you’ve extended to everybody else to my predecessor.”

Main image: Protestors outside Birkenhead Town Hall over the Brackenwood Golf Course pitch proposal. Credit: Edward Barnes

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