Media release - issued 13 Dec 2017

Cabinet agrees option to convert Southwood Golf Course into new natural parkland

Rushmoor Borough Council's Cabinet agreed on Tuesday night that Southwood Golf Course should be converted into natural open parkland so that new homes can continue to be built in the borough and the town centres regenerated.

The Cabinet voted unanimously to close the golf course and convert the land into what is known as Suitable Natural Alternative Greenspace (SANG).  This is open recreational land that housing developers must provide, or contribute towards, by law, for  their residents to use instead of local protected heathlands before the council can give planning permission. This is because Rushmoor sits within the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, which protects ground-nesting birds on local heathlands.  Being a SANG would protect the land itself from ever being built on.

The Cabinet gave the Chief Executive the power to decide when the golf course should close and asked that a management plan be brought forward in due course for the new SANG.

In the meantime, it said that the council should continue to talk with the Government and Natural England to try to get the law changed, so in future, councils will not be in this difficult position. The Cabinet also asked the council to make arrangements to provide support and advice to residents who use the course about other options available locally.

The decision follows an extensive public consultation through August and September, which saw more than 2,400 responses received to an online and paper survey, as well as public meetings and drop-in sessions. 

A joint meeting of the council's Environment and Leisure and Youth Panels also considered the consultation results in November, and last week's full Council meeting received a petition of nearly 2,400 signatures calling for the golf course to remain open.  The Cabinet also heard from a number of speakers on Tuesday night in support of the course.

The Cabinet was told that Rushmoor Borough Council is one of only 11 councils affected by the SANG rules and one of just three, whose whole area is affected by them.

Attempts over a number of years to get the Government to rethink its approach to SANGs had been unsuccessful. Most recently, Aldershot MP Leo Docherty had written to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to raise the issue, but had received a letter, dated 6 December, confirming that the Government had no plans to revise its position on SANGS.

This meant that while there was SANG in place to support the Wellesley development in Aldershot and a recent agreement with Hart District Council would provide SANG capacity for 1500 homes in Farnborough, there was currently only enough SANG capacity left for the council to grant planning permission for 12 new homes in Aldershot.

The Cabinet heard that without swift action, the situation would jeopardise the submission of the new Local Plan, the council's ability to meet the requirement for more local homes and affordable housing, and to bring about the regeneration of the town centres, in particular, Aldershot town centre.

Councillor Martin Tennant, Cabinet member for the Environment, said after the meeting: "This was a very difficult decision to make, but our priorities must be the regeneration of our town centres and to provide homes and affordable housing to meet local need.  It is also of utmost importance that our Local Plan is sound when the Planning Inspectorate examines it next year - without it, we could end up losing control of our planning processes and have planning decisions made by the Government, rather than by local councillors. Not having a sound plan would also put at risk town centre regeneration and our ability to deliver new homes and affordable housing for our residents."

Councillor Maurice Sheehan, Cabinet member for Leisure and Youth, added: "I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in the Southwood consultation. We do understand and appreciate the strength of feeling of those who have been involved. Making a decision on the future of a leisure facility is never a decision to be taken lightly, but we have limited options available to us and we have to do what is right for the whole of the borough and its residents.

"We have asked the officers to engage fully with residents who use the golf course to make sure they are aware of the other golf facilities available locally and to support them to move to a new course once Southwood closes.

"We now look forward to engaging with the community and consulting on the range of leisure facilities that can be provided at the new SANG."

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