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Allestree Hall & Golf course – bunkered by incompetence. Or vested interest?

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.

Appendix to Cabinet report dated 11 September 2019. Highlighted areas were used by the Golf Club/Golf Course
Appendix to Cabinet report dated 11 September 2019

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:

  1. The Council does not give any further time extensions for the preferred bidder to finalise a deal
  2. 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.

Comment

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.
Figure 1 – Clear statement from Historic England that structures/objects within the grounds of the Hall are part of its listed status. This includes the water tank, pump, and irrigation system controls for the Golf Course.

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 ScriptWhat 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.”

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10 replies »

  1. Interlinked beneficiaries. These people should not only be accountable at the ballot box but at the courts. The same people will keep their seats based on apathy and the misguided belief that ‘rewilding’ (which was an afterthought) will save the planet!

  2. So how do we take this forward. Derby is about as democratic as China. There must be a mechanism to challange this situation.

  3. An excellent article revealing the council’s incompetence and giving an insight into those involved in bidding for the Hall.

  4. Very similar thing now happening in Burton with our Tory council. They want to close the library which has 5000 visitors per week, sell the land for building, and move it into the market hall, the current traders being removed with nowhere for them to go. The market hall library will be much smaller and will also house Staffs County Council employees. A small area of parking space will only be available at the market hall. The main idea is to increase footfall into the town centre but the distance between the two buildings at the moment is 250m. ESBC are promoting the success of the Lichfield library move which was from outside of the town centre to an empty church in the centre which cost 1 million. The Burton library move has been costed by ESBC planners at nearly 9 million! A planned 1000m long bridge over washlands (7 million) has been dropped as a,, 7 million is not enough. b,, the 1 million people who would use it is very, very optimistic. and c,, the bridge would flood in bad weather. Different plans and ideas have been put forward by a team who are in opposition to the plans but have not been discussed by any council members who are completely committed to pushing through the move of library to market, removing a perfectly good, functioning library and closing a market hall that has been going for hundreds of years.

  5. Derby City Council (DCC) have been indifferent to the proposed A38 expansion refusing to be drawn. Irrespective of merit this dwarfs city emission thresholds. Climate emergency declared mid 2019 DCC have done nothing to implement mitigations. Rewilding Allestree Park as remedial works under this guise is slight of hand, subterfuge and explotative at best.

  6. What an absolute perversion and abuse of democratic process. The cabinet governance model for Derby must be removed, it is so clearly failing to ensure the upholding of democratic principles. The abuse of power going on is staggering. There are elections coming up, let us all vote these clowns out.

  7. No matter which clowns are in power, they were going to consign Allestree Park golf to History. They decided it was to expensive to keep going. I am just waiting to hear that Sinfin will be closed.
    0.003% cost of the upkeep is far to much. (Sarcastic) This is the only way that a great number of people can afford to play golf. I am a retired member of the club, and the sale of the place was talked about 10 to 12 years ago. It was rumoured the cost to repair the roof alone would be £1000,000. I don`t know where it came from, but it was laughed at by a well known builder who was a member at that time. So Derby City council had decided then it was going to close. Thus depriving a lot of people in Derby the only chance of playing a great game. I have taken visitors for a round, and most of them thought it a great course. Shame on you CLOWNS.

  8. Torys they are only in it for themselves. I for one am glad that the golf course is gone, sorry. It more democratic use of space much better for children to play in. As a doctor of heritage I know what value these sites have, but this changes over time. Just look at Belper Mill and Gladstone pottery, both struggling. I hate cronyism and its no surprise to see the local MP up to her neck in it.

    • The local MP is on your side. Make your mind up!

      Regarding the space – there is plenty of room to the right as you walk up from the Park Lane end for hundreds of children or maybe they could go to the Rec where at least they have swings etc!

  9. A Reply to Boers Yaansson.When It was first brought to the attention of the Golf club patrons of Allestree park golf club, it was going to be sold 10 to 15 years ago. First to a golfing consortium. and then to Derby University. And at that time Labour was in the driving seat. And as for the golf cronyism as you put it. If it weren’t for golf crony’s, The majority of golf club`s in the UK would be industrial units, or housing. This would create more pollution in the air we democratically breath.

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