The fate of the Allestree Golf Course was sealed 15 months before it actually closed.
In September 2019 the Cabinet approved a “preferred bidder” whose proposal was to renovate Allestree Hall and use it as an exclusive wedding venue; the bidder was not interested in running the Golf course. As Allestree Hall contains the Golf Course Club House, kitchen, toilets, equipment sheds and the water tank, pump and controls for the Course’s irrigation system, the decision, effectively, de-capitated the future of golfing in Allestree Park.
No one in the Cabinet spotted this potential issue – they voted the paper through – as instructed.
A report presented to the November 2021 Cabinet revealed, in retrospect, the clear intentions and expectations of the Council from the outset:
“4.2 In September 2019, Cabinet approved the sale of Allestree Hall and, as the sale of the Hall would affect the operation of Allestree Golf Course, it was subsequently decided in accordance with the report to close the golf course on 31 December 2020 and that the golf course be absorbed into the existing parkland.”Cabinet paper 10 November 2021 “Future Management of Allestree Park”
The Council’s lame attempts to find an organisation to run the Golf Club were always going to be futile. The business case of any bidder was burdened with the cost and complications of the replacement of the facilities in the grounds of the Hall.
It was clear that the Council’s attention was solely on solving the problem of Allestree Hall ; a Grade 2* listed building, un-occupied for 40 years, deteriorating, and on Historic England’s “Heritage at Risk” register. A listing that includes reference to the Golf Course as its “Setting” making it an integral part of the Hall’s heritage value.
To supplement the Course’s value it is widely recognised as of great historic and sporting significance, having been designed by Harry S Colt – reportedly worth in the region of tens of millions of pounds. Rather than seeing this as a great asset and marketing opportunity for the City, the Tory Cllrs who have a keen eye on the Hall sale, argued vociferously against its worth, and dismissed any optimism over 3rd party interest.
Why you might ask?
Who is the “preferred bidder” for Allestree Hall?
The bidder is Andrew Rose and his company West Mill Venue Ltd; it is a wedding venue organisation in the Darley Mills complex largely owned by Rose’s uncle Anthony Attwood. Rose’s father is Lewis Rose OBE, leader of the Conservative group in Darley Dales District Council for 45 years and, until recently Leader of the District Council.
The Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust (DHBT) identified Allestree Hall as one of 12 at risk properties in the County and describes themselves as the “catalyst” for the plan to bring the Hall back into use. The Chair of the Trust is Derek Latham, the husband of Pauline Latham OBE , the Conservative MP for Mid-Derbyshire ( which includes Allestree); his architecture firm carried out a detailed Heritage Assessment which is source information for the Allestree Hall Planning Application.
Despite the clear links between the Hall and the Golf Course it is surprising that Latham, with his credentials in conservation and as a landscape/conservation architect, was not more focussed on the retention of the combined heritage, rather than just the building.
Why has the Hall sale not been completed?
Andrew Rose submitted the planning application for the Hall on the 18th November 2019 – it was approved on 17th December 2020, by a planning officer, not by the Planning Committee. 12 months later the contractual papers have still not been signed.
[The Council will hold the freehold and Rose will be granted a long lease]
Just over 2 years since Rose was declared the preferred bidder, and with 1 year for scrutinising the planning application, there are still complications with the sale of the leasehold. Complications which will, most likely, disappear when there is no chance of the Golf course ever being used again.
Full Council decision
At the July 2021 Full Council meeting, Cllr Skelton proposed a motion, which was passed, and which resolved that:
- The Council does not give any further time extensions for the preferred bidder to finalise a deal
- Cabinet and Council officers ask Marketing Derby to identify suitable organisations who are interested in operating the Hall and Golf Course in an integrated manner or the golf course as a separate entity
The Cabinet and Council Officers were obliged, constitutionally, and democratically, to follow this direction.
This did not happen.
Rewilding the Golf Course
At the November 2021 Cabinet meeting the rewilding concept was presented; a proposed partnership with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, University of Derby and Rewilding Britain. Derby City Council CEO, Paul Simpson, stated that this had started off as an idea “in the summer” (2021)- at the very point when the elected Councillors had decided that the required action was to pursue suitable organisations to run the Golf Course…not for it to be rewilded!
This is a failure of the democratic process in the City initiated by the CEO, Paul Simpson and supported by the Tory Cabinet.
Simpson diverted attention away from this significant transgression by making “apocalyptic” statements:
“This is about the Council and the City responding to the Climate challenge and the issues around bio-diversity and we know that those two issues are intrinsically linked…and it is a good time that the Council is considering a report about how we come together to respond to , undoubtedly, the greatest challenge facing humanity…that is how I see it”
“We moved quickly on this for a very obvious reason – the need to respond to a Climate emergency”
At the Council meeting on the 24th November 2021, Cllr Peatfield pointed out in her supplementary questions to the Cabinet Member that, if the park was completely populated with trees it would absorb just 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This is in the context of 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being produced by Derby, per year.
Paul Simpson’s, apparent, spontaneous conversion to a Climate Emergency evangelist is merely his “dead cat strategy” – a diversion away from the real issue which is the Council’s monumental mess over the management of the future of Allestree Hall and the Golf Course. And perhaps, more concerning are Simpson’s actions to ignore the democratic will of the Full Council.
It is worth re-capping where this started. In the budget for 2020/21 ( a document issued by Simpson himself as Chief Finance Officer) showed a saving from the Golf course of £0.069m out of a total budget of £238m – a saving of 0.03% – an amount which is unmeasurable in practice. This document was issued after the preferred bidder was announced.
There has been no mention of the operational costs associated with a rewilding scheme.
The complete antipathy by the Tory Cabinet towards a significant City asset , especially by Cllrs Barker and Roulstone, during their speeches at the July Council meeting, is more revealing of the mess that has been created, than it is about their personal indifference to golfing in the City.
An objective eye can see clearly what has happened whereas Cllrs, and Officers, who are immersed so far in this quagmire, that their plain thinking has been asphyxiated. There is no need for conspiracy theories as incompetence is the underlying root cause.
A competent person would have been fully aware that:
- Allestree Hall and the Golf Course are inextricably linked. Some of the Golf Course features in the Hall site are part of its listing status ( see below – Figure 1)
- The Golf Course is a defined component of the Hall’s Grade 2* listing by virtue of it’s status as part of the Hall’s “Setting” – Historic England (See below – Figure 2)
- The Golf Course has significant historical/commercial value to the City ( it was a key factor in Toyota coming to Derby)
- Trying to find a buyer/operator for the Golf Course through a few adverts in low key trade magazines was always going to be unsuccessful. Finding quality partners would require a more proactive and determined strategy involving Marketing Derby and industry professionals.
So, we now have a situation where almost 2.5 years after the preferred bidder was announced there is no signed deal. This is a deal between a “willing buyer” and a “willing seller”; it is evident that the poor due diligence on the implications of the Grade 2* listing have frustrated the plans.
Rewilding Allestree Park is an after thought – it is not part of any strategy ( the Council’s Climate Change strategy is 6 years old). Rewilding Britain state in their report that the benefits from rewilding come with “substantial uncertainties” in terms of carbon absorption. This is not an emergency response as suggested by Simpson or a magnanimous contribution to “save humanity” but simply an opportunistic smoke-screen to divert attention away from the fact this whole project to save £69k from the closure of the Golf Course, is well and truly bunkered!
Post Script – What is a “Dead Cat Strategy”
“The dead cat strategy, or deadcatting, is the introduction of a dramatic, shocking, or sensationalist topic to divert discourse away from a more damaging topic. The strategy, or at least the “dead cat” metaphor to describe it, is particularly associated with Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby. Boris Johnson employed Crosby as his campaign manager during the 2008 and 2012 London mayoral elections, and wrote of his advice that “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”