June 20, 2024


Public parks across London and beyond are being put at risk by a high court judgment in favour of Enfield council leasing a rewilded golf course to Tottenham Hotspur for a football academy, campaigners say.

The court has ruled that Enfield council is allowed to hand over more than half of the 97-hectare (240-acre) Whitewebbs Park to Spurs, which has submitted plans to the council to build a new women’s and girls’ academy on the green belt site.

Mr Justice Mould dismissed campaigners, led by local resident Sean Wilkinson, who argued that the council was bound by a statutory duty to ensure the wildlife-rich former council golf course remained open to the wider public for recreation.

The campaigners have vowed to appeal against the verdict and continue to fight plans to fence off and build on a swath of the park, which was sold to the council to benefit the people of the borough nearly a century ago. Since the public golf course closed in 2021, Whitewebbs has been widely used by local people and wildlife including 80 species of bird and at least nine species of bat, as well as great-crested newts and badgers.

Wilkinson, a retired teacher, said: “It would be dreadful if that verdict stood, not just for Whitewebbs but practically any open space in the London area and beyond. We’re seeing a revitalisation of the enclosure movement by big corporations and this is going to permit land-grabs by other sporting clubs and businesses.

“There’s no difference between this kind of industrial sporting facility and a low-level factory development. Spurs want to create a fortified encampment in the park. We’re definitely going to fight this.”

Campaigners are seeking the judge’s permission to appeal against the verdict. The campaigners’ solicitor, Harriet Child of the Public Interest Law Centre, said: “If this can happen to Whitewebbs Park, it can happen anywhere. It can happen to your local park, playground or playing field.

“Public trust land was one of the great and radical advances to come out of the public backlash against development encroaching on people’s ability to access open space. It’s terribly sad that we’ve lost sight of that as a society.

“This judgment shows a willingness to sell land to private companies that people fought so hard to protect for the public nearly 100 years ago.”

Enfield council is handing Spurs a 25-year lease to the land for £2m. Campaigner Ed Allnutt added: “The works that will be carried out are irreversible and damaging. It’s not just people who use the park – it’s home to reptiles, badgers, and habitat priority listed birds. It is adjacent to the beaver habitat at Forty Hall. This is a huge construction project that will permanently change a beautiful, biodiverse landscape. The enclosure will largely benefit a huge private enterprise, Tottenham Hotspur, that is owned offshore, for an elite academy. It will be a permanent loss to the community and nature.”

In his written verdict, Mould concluded that the proposed training facility was “not confined to commercial football training” and would “foster a large element of community access and support women’s and girls’ football locally”.

Alice Roberts, the head of campaigns at CPRE London, an environmental charity, called on Spurs to withdraw its planning application for Whitewebbs and develop the facilities on another site.

“We are enormously disappointed that a wealthy football club like Tottenham Hotspur feels it appropriate to take over a public park when they can well afford to purchase land elsewhere,” she said.

“We strongly support provision for women’s football, but this is a wealthy, professional football club which has plenty of resources to buy land which is not public park land.”

Roberts added: “I’m staggered that it’s possible for a council to sell a park to a very wealthy organisation with impunity.”

When QPR sought to build a new training ground on public playing fields at Warren Farm in west London, a public outcry led to the football club eventually backing down. Warren Farm will instead become a publicly accessible nature reserve.

Spurs’ plans for Whitewebbs, which will be considered by Enfield’s planning committee and are open to public comments until the end of the month, involve the club developing and managing 53 hectares of the park. A portion of this will be fenced off for the women’s academy, including indoor facilities and all-weather pitches, as well as a sports turf academy, surrounded by new tree-planting.

An Enfield council spokesperson said: “Enfield council welcomes this judgment confirming that due process was followed at all times leading up to the decision to enter into the agreement for lease. The lease of part of Whitewebbs Park is set to bring significant benefits to the local community including the protection and enhancement of the park and woods, further investment in a new on-site cafe, toilets and other facilities as well as preserving open public access to over 80% of the park for all residents.”

Spurs declined to comment.



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