The last word – for now

My arm is sore from being twisted but, as this individual was mentioned by name, and statements that he considers misleading made about a petition he organised, l am giving the absolute final word ( for now) on the future of the High Common and Approach Golf Course to Ben Reed.

Ben Reed

There are a few points I wish to make in response to the various pieces which you’ve published of late, but for those unfamiliar with the tale it’s worth a short recap of why the golf course closed in March 2020, and what’s happened between then and now.

That infamous month saw the covid pandemic reach our shores, and during the first lockdown B&NES Council agreed to release their leisure provider, the social enterprise GLL (known in Bath as ‘Better’), from their non-contractual arrangement to operate the pitch and putt course. The Council’s intention was to seek continued leisure provision on the site – including but not necessarily limited to golf – and to revitalise the kiosk and surrounds into a proper café and community hub, in turn securing a future for the site which would generate more visitors and pay for ongoing maintenance.

It’s interesting to note that at that time the move attracted precious little criticism. Sadly, the continuing pandemic and associated financial uncertainty hampered the initial procurement, and the only tender received was deemed unacceptable, in part because it did not include a golf offering. Now that coronavirus restrictions are (hopefully) behind us, it seems that the Council believes the time is right to try again with a second procurement exercise. 

When it looked in the summer of 2020 as though the facility was at risk of permanent closure, I started a petition:  Petition · Keep Bath Approach Golf Course open · I admit I wasn’t sure how much support it would attract. If only a few hundred people had signed it then I’d have concluded that closure was the right outcome and given up. The opposite happened, and eventually 5,000 signatures were forthcoming – the vast majority from local people.

Here’s where I must make some corrections to the nearby residents’ associations’ recent open letter. They refer to the petition as ‘relating to disc golf’. Anyone who clicks on the link will see that I, as the originator of the petition and author of all the updates, never made a single reference to disc golf. They also claim to have ‘adopted’ the petition. I have never given anyone any access to the petition, and whilst I don’t doubt that it was circulated and promoted by local residents, signatory data indicates that the overwhelming majority of signatories come from outside the postcode areas represented by those associations’ members.

Local residents have rightly been vocal with their views, but these have to be balanced against those of the thousands of people from across B&NES. Even locally, I note that the Sion Hill and Marlborough Lane residents’ associations have not given their support to their neighbours’ letter, and having spoken to some of them I can confirm they continue to fully support the stated aim of my petition. I absolutely respect anyone’s right to change their mind, but must confess to bemusement that certain individuals campaigned alongside me, signed my petition, and are now apparently against moves by the Council to give them what they said they wanted!

My personal views are really neither here nor there, but since a handful of people have (in my view mischievously) tried to label me a blinkered golf-obsessive it might help to clarify: I’ve always been in favour of continuing completely unrestricted access for all, and of exploring new uses for the site.

Some element of rewilding and the elimination of already sparing chemical use should certainly be sought, and I hope and expect bids to come forward which innovate and improve on the past in these areas. Golf does require quite a lot of space it’s true, but it has always co-existed very happily with walkers, dog walkers, picnickers and others. That said, a reduction in the footprint of golf might make sense, perhaps giving way to a community garden, wildflower areas and some additional tree planting.

My fear is that those pleading for ‘compromise’ actually hope to scupper any level of commercial viability in order to secure the status quo. This would be the worst outcome. It’s not clear to me how a large, bland grassland extension of Victoria Park maximises benefits to residents of B&NES, who are quite well served for parks but comparatively poorly served in terms of outdoor

family leisure opportunities. I’ve seen no evidence that visitor numbers have increased at High Common, and strongly suspect that visits by residents from the South of the city and other non-BA1 postcodes remain much lower than in the past. Around 1,000 petition signatories live in these areas of B&NES. No one appears to be speaking up for them.

It’s a shame that a number of people who frankly should know better have chosen to abandon polite reasoned debate in favour of unfounded personal attacks. On the other hand, I’ve received many kind words of support and encouragement, and met some lovely people. I’m glad that together we’ve been able to keep High Common and the Approach Golf Course on the agenda and secured the possibility of improving the site so that it can be more beautiful, inclusive and popular than ever.

This second procurement is the last chance for the foreseeable future to realise the enormous potential of High Common: the potential to be managed as a haven for plant, insect and bird life; the potential for a community hub and café; the potential to offer an affordable, accessible leisure activity that brings people in from across B&NES and beyond; and the potential to plug a Council funding gap and ensure the site once again pays for its own upkeep.

I’m optimistic that there’s a solution which will please everyone, and simply urge people to wait and see what proposals now come forward.”

1 Comment

  1. Not all local residents’ associations have expressed a view (I don’t think St James Park cul-de-sac RA has, for example). Nor are all local residents in a RA. Nor do all people in an RA necessarily support the views it puts forward.

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