Wakefield Council told to rethink ‘top secret’ plan to buy historic golf house

Senior councillors must reconsider a plan to buy a historic golf house after being accused of ‘sneaking the decision through the back door’.

By Tony Gardner
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 6:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th July 2022, 6:41 pm

A scrutiny committee took the rare step of referring the decision to purchase the Old Golf House back to Wakefield Council’s Cabinet.

The local authority intend to purchase the property on Heath Common, currently a private residence, so they can build an extension to a traveller site at a cost of £5.8m.

Scrutiny committee members said they were concerned about a lack of consultation with local residents and the existing traveller community.

A scrutiny committee took the rare step of referring the decision to purchase the Old Golf House back to Wakefield Council’s Cabinet.

David Dagger, Labour councillor for Normanton, told the Climate Change and Environmental Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee: “The Council’s reputation will be severely damaged if this proposed acquisition goes ahead without consultation with the local and traveller community.

“It has the potential to call into question the Council’s Corporate Plan, ensuring fairness, opportunity, honesty, accountability and transparency which is at the core of how the Council works.

“The former golf house has significant local historical value and is part of Heath Common cultural heritage.”

Last week, Cabinet approved the purchase so an extension to the existing traveller site off Doncaster Road can go ahead.

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Buying the property would allow for a covenant prohibiting development to be lifted.Heath Common could then be extended to 61 permanent pitches, up from its current number of 38.

Coun Dagger also accused the local authority of withholding “top secret, commercially sensitive” information from elected members.

He continued: “It was that top secret and sensitive I found out about it from a member of the public – then asked the question and was informed on the matter by officers

“Why should I, as an elected member, be told by a member of the public what’s happening in my ward on something that is supposedly top secret and commercially sensitive?

“The Council didn’t want anyone to know about it and to start asking questions.

“They wanted to sneak the decision through the back door.

“However, someone let the cat out of the bag.

"Once the local and traveller community got to know about it, they were angry and annoyed at not being consulted before decisions are made that directly affect them.”

Coun Darren Byford, Cabinet portfolio holder for regeneration, economic growth and property, insisted that consultation had already taken place and would continue throughout the planning application process.

He said: “I believe that we have said consistently that once we have something to consult on, we will consult.”

Coun Byford continued: “This has been going on for many years, at least 14, long before I was a councillor.

“Many different wards across the district have been discussed.

“The logical site at the end of this process was to extend our current provision.”

Anthony Sadler, Director for Communities, said the local authority had already consulted the Leeds Gypsy And Traveller Exchange (GATE) over the proposals.

Tony Wallis, Chair of the committee, said there had only been four or five previous occasions when a Wakefield Council scrutiny committee had voted to ‘call in’ a decision since the cabinet system was introduced in 1999.

Some details of the proposal, including the cost of the Golf House purchase, have not been made publicly available.

Coun Wallis told committee members that they should not mention confidential information during the meeting.

Mohammed Ayub, Labour councillor for Wakefield East, said: “I feel as though we are spending a large amount of money, but have we really done the consultation that has been needed?”

Julie Medford, Labour councillor for Normanton, said: “It is a lot of money to spend.

“This is what makes it so important to keep on with this consultation now.

“We have not got that ‘not on our patch’ attitude, because we support the travelling community.”