Published: 21:20, 12 March 2018
A golf club due to shut at the end of the month has been given a glimmer of hope after cabinet members were told they have to reconsider its proposed closure.
Large numbers of campaigners attended a specially-arranged meeting on the future of Deangate Ridge Golf Club in Hoo to hear Medway Council’s regeneration, culture and environment overview and scrutiny committee assess its cabinet’s decision to close the facility at the end of March.
Following vocal campaigning from residents and three petitions attracting a total of nearly 4,000 signatures – mainly focusing on a perceived lack of consultation – Conservative members of the committee agreed to refer the decision back to cabinet.
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Labour’s four representatives on the panel abstained after their own motion to send the decision to full council for reconsideration was voted down.
Tabling the motion, Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con) said: “Officers have made very clear the financial aspect in relation to Deangate and they’ve made it clear to us the sport provision currently provided to the residents of Medway by the council.
“However, I’ve listened to some very passionate pleas from various people, including the local councillor (cabinet member Phil Filmer), and therefore I propose we refer back to the cabinet for further consideration.”
Deangate’s demise had been “called-in” by members of the Medway Labour group, meaning it had to be reviewed by the scrutiny committee.
The group raised questions about how quickly the decision was reached and accused officers and cabinet members of predetermining the facility’s proposed closure.
Outlining the call-in decision, Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab) said: “It’s a well-used, much loved golf course and an open space for the community to use close to an ever-expanding rural community.
“And yet, the ruling cabinet thinks it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable to make a snap decision to close the golf course – just five working days after making its closure plans public with no public consultation whatsoever.
“I believe these decisions are an affront to democracy.”
Six petitioners addressed the committee before the debate took place, with the majority of the audience rising to their feet to applaud those who made passionate speeches.
Campaigner Joanne De La Porte said: “The report, its content, and the governance that sits behind it are the focus of our campaign today.
“Both letters (sent by campaigners) requested the Deangate Ridge decision be delayed until a compliant business case had been produced, reviewing all options available for the future of the golf course.
“Medway cabinet chose to completely disregard our concerns and did not acknowledge any of the letters...” - campaigner Joanne De Le Porte
“All of the letters demonstrated in detail why the report (considered by cabinet) was not compliant and breached the Medway constitution and various other statutes.
“Medway cabinet chose to completely disregard our concerns and did not acknowledge any of the letters.”
Council officers defended its report and said the decision reached was legal and a fair reflection of the golf course, which has made a loss of more than £1.5m over the last seven years and had a membership of less than 300 people.
Deputy chief executive Richard Hicks said: “We understand the depth of feeling there is around this issue and it’s, indeed, not a course of action we’ve proposed lightly.
“In the face of a national decline in golf, and in the face of the ongoing financial instability that we have seen across the golf course, and indeed in the face of the measures we’ve put in place over the years to seek to reverse that financial position but which have been unsuccesful, we have reluctantly come to the view that we needed to recommend closure.”
If the decision is upheld, Deangate Ridge will close its doors to the public on March 31. The date of the cabinet meeting to discuss the matter is currently unknown.
Council officials insist there was “no legal duty” to consult on the proposed closure.
In the report published ahead of Monday’s meeting, assistant director of physical and cultural regeneration Tomasz Kozlowski added: “No legitimate expectation of consultation can have existed since the council did not promise to consult.”
The council insists no decision has been made about the potential future use of the site, adding the other facilities at the sport complex will remain open.
However, council documents show the golf course is being promoted by Medway Council as a possible location for housing development.
Speaking after the meeting, campaigner Ron Sands said he was not optimistic about cabinet members changing their minds.
He added: “The leader of the council, Alan Jarrett, wasn’t here today so he doesn’t know the strength of feeling.
“I’ve got an awful feeling that it’s a done deal and they’ve made their mind up, and regardless of what we say, they’re going to continue.
“But we haven’t given up, there will be meetings, there will be a big crowd outside the council again and we will make our voices heard.
“They will ignore us at their peril.”
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