Waterhall and Hollingbury: we could have done so much more

Gscene Editorial Team January 22, 2020

Councillor Clare Rainey, Green Opposition spokesperson on Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee talks about her views on the proposals for the Hollingbury and Waterhall golf courses.

Waterhall and Hollingbury: we could have done so much more

Back in June 2019, Green Councillors were told that the ‘time was up’ on the lease for two, council-owned assets in the city – the Hollingbury and Waterhall golf courses. Currently operated by company MyTime Active on behalf of the council, due to a decline in membership the company reported they cannot continue to profitably manage the golf courses, and are not in a position to continue if current contracts are renewed in full.

This situation presents us with a unique opportunity: to open up a conversation with the community about the future of two council-owned green spaces as they reach the end of their lease. In our view, these sites have huge potential – they could be repurposed in a way that benefits both Brighton and Hove residents, biodiversity and our pledge to address the climate crisis. Myself and fellow Green Councillors put forward ‘rewilding,’ alongside the possibility of camping sites and other environmental uses as an option. We were successful – and hoped that our ambitions would be realised.

Rewilding is a complex undertaking that means different things to different people. In the name of research, last year I visited the Knepp rewilding project and Tablehurst Farm and have seen what is possible. Ending the use of all chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers allows vegetation to flourish, increasing current habitats and creating new ones for birds and animals. Grazing animals help to manage the land, and if organically farmed, produce manure that helps improve soil health – attracting further declining species such as dung beetles. Greens would want to see an ecological study taken on how to achieve these goals.

Looking again at how we use our golf courses could offer so much – a showcase for rewilding, but also a resource for local schools and colleges. Given that interaction with nature is proven to have significant benefits to mental health, a rewilding project so close to the city would be an opportunity to develop activities that reach out to some of our most marginalised communities. Public access must be at the forefront.

Yet, plans for Hollingbury Golf Course will now not come before members of the council committee for scrutiny. We have seen no plan for rewilding – or mixed use on the site. Worse still, there is no time to explore many of the options suggested by the community for either golf course. It appears we are facing a ‘more of the same,’ option – simply because the process didn’t take into account community concerns. Greens have called on the council to review the Hollingbury decision. They have rushed this process – and councillors and the community should be better engaged on any project that intends to deliver maximum social and environmental benefits.

Now we know the council does have a bidder for Waterhall prepared to undertake rewilding, we urge the bidder to engage with the community and local ecologists to make it the best it can be. Knepp has been described as ‘inspiring proof that people and other nature can coexist,’ – and now makes a considerable profit. Done right, there is so much potential for a similar project here. Local groups such as the South Down Alliance, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Biosphere Partnership have considerable expertise and can add so much value to the decision-making process.

The end of the lease of Hollingbury and Waterhall could have been an opportunity to kick-start a conversation with all of our communities about the future of the sites. From golfers to keen ‘re-wilders,’ alike – benefits could have been explored that take the needs of all users of the space on board.

As generating income, this land can be used in a way which benefits a large proportion of Brighton and Hove residents, and offers hope for our natural environment. As is stands, many in the community have been left disappointed.

Councillor Clare Rainey,