A crowd-funder to protect the land occupied by the Bedford Golf Club in Great Denham has more than doubled its original target in just 48 hours and continues to rise.
The fundraiser was set up on 11 August, by Great Denham resident and former town planner, Natalie Wilson, as part of the Save the Golf Course and Urban Community Group.
The golf club is due to close on 16 October when the current leaseholder’s tenure expires and residents fear this will leave the land open to residential development.
The crowd-funded money is ear-marked to appoint a barrister to advise the group on legal points relating to the planning situation surrounding the land.
A spokesperson for Bidwells, the agent responsible for the land, told the Bedford Independent that it was the golf club’s decision not to renew their lease and the closure of the facility has been amicably agreed between the tenant and the trustees of the land.
She reiterated that there was no intention to build housing on the land, although Bidwells would be seeking to get a commercial income by making the club house available to hire or changing its use to a children’s nursery.
“Bidwells is taking the residents’ concerns very seriously and is willing to be fully transparent and open about the plans for the land,” said the spokesperson.
“There has been some mis-information conflating the golf club and the land and they are separate issues.
“The business lease is at an end and the golf club has taken the decision not to renew their lease.”
“Deliberately wound up”
However, Cllr Jim Weir and the Save the Golf Course and Urban Community Group believe that the club is being deliberately wound up with the long-term view to develop the land.
The Bedford Independent contacted the Bedford Golf Club for a comment, but we did not receive a response.
Following their inaugural meeting on Thursday (20 August), the Save the Golf Course and Urban Community Group issued a statement:
“It is our purpose to protect the land that is presently occupied by The Bedford Golf Club.
“We believe that the Golf Club is being deliberately wound up by the landowners despite the tenants attempts to stay with a view to, in the longer term, see additional built development on the land.
“The golf club is a popular, well-used facility. Hundreds of rounds of golf there are played every year by members and pay and play golfers alike – over 30,000 rounds of golf were played in the last 12 months.
“The land has a number of public footpaths which are popular walking routes for many residents.
“So popular is the club that in 2011, an application was submitted to and subsequently approved by the Borough Council for an extension of the original clubhouse building to allow additional seating for users of the clubhouse and private functions.
“The clubhouse is used by many residents who are not members of the club as as a place to meet friends, eat and drink at. In addition it is used as a venue by external groups such as weight loss clubs.”
Speaking on behalf of the group, Natalie Wilson said, “We know we can’t control what the landowner does, but the land was allocated as sports and leisure use, so we would like to retain a golf club on the site.
“However, our ultimate aim is to protect the land and object to any planning application for change of use for the buildings or for built development of the site.”
Richard Fuller, MP for NE Bedfordshire, has also offered his thoughts.
“Many residents in Great Denham, Biddenham and Bromham have contacted me about the closure of Great Denham Golf Course and the implications for the future of the site,” he said.
“I share many of their anxieties with the uncertain future for the area: an anxiety that has been heightened by recent assertions by the Mayor in securing a northern route for East West Rail.
“I am pleased that Bidwells, the site’s land agents have responded positively to my request for a meeting with ward and parish councillors for early September and will let residents know the outcome.
“As I understand it, there are no current development plans but this may of course change.
“We will commit to being transparent”
The Trustees of Old Ford End Trust, who own the land, say they will engage with local people over the future use of the land.
“We understand that it has been a tough couple of years for Great Denham Golf Club. No one wants to see a business close, particularly one that serves the community as this one has,” they said.
“The current lease comes to an end as of October this year following a two-year closing period. This is a separate issue to the land itself.
“As Trustees, we have a responsibility to ensure the land is producing income.
“Rather than allow the former club to become a derelict site that serves no purpose, we have a short to medium term plan to allow the land itself to be grazed as pasture or topped, for the club house to be let as a nursery school or similar, and for the greenkeepers’ complex to be put on the market for an alternative use that will serve local businesses.
“These measures alone will significantly increase the return from the land and property while also continuing to serve the local community in some guise.
“We know there has been much speculation about housing development on the site. This is not being considered and no allocation for such has been put forward for the forthcoming Local Plan which covers at least the next five years.
“In fact, should any of our plans change we will commit to being transparent and engaging with the community first.”