The future of two loss-making Bath golf courses remains in the balance as the council looks to remove taxpayer support.
Many residents and golfers want the shuttered Entry Hill and Approach facilities to reopen as soon as possible and claim a consultation that said it should become a mountain bike park was hijacked by the “cycling lobby on steroids”.
Bath and North East Somerset Council faces a “financial crisis” and says it can no longer afford to subsidise people playing golf – each round played at Entry Hill costs taxpayers £8.
Green campaigners say golf courses are “barren and sterile” landscapes that harm ecology and have put forward a third option for the 10-hectare site, a “rich wildlife haven” with art and sculptures.
Lansdown ward councillor Mark Elliott said: “I completely understand the financial pressures the council is under. A way should be found that is at least cost neutral rather than it being subsidised, but it’s an iconic green space in the centre of Bath that needs to be cared for in some way. Leaving it unmanaged is not an option.
“The sooner it can reopen as a golf course the better.”
More than 3,200 people responded to a consultation on the future of the Entry Hill golf course earlier this year. Some 78 per cent of them said a family cycle centre or mountain bike park was the best use for the site, while 60 per cent backed a park with a cafe.
The council is effectively subsidising the golf course to the tune of £80,000 a year – or £8 for every round played. No other sport is backed in this way.
Only 19 per cent of responses to the consultation said the golf course should be retained but run under a different management model.
Golfer Elizabeth Hallam said the consultation had been weighted against the sport and targeted by the “cycling lobby on steroids”, with many respondents from as far away as Scotland and Guernsey who had never visited the site.
She said 1,000 local people had signed a petition calling for the course at Entry Hill to remain, there are hundreds of “latent golfers” in Bath, and a businessman was willing to put his own money on the line to run it.
She added: “Should you really delay a decision while the cyclists go with a begging bowl to try to raise sponsorship for a cause the council then undertakes the bid build for an outside manager?”
Katina Beckett, who chairs the Entry Hill Community Association, said lobbying tipped the results in favour of a mountain bike park. She said the development would require considerable excavation works that would destroy wildlife and risk the release of toxic substances from the former landfill site.
But Amy Coulthard, the director of conservation at the Avon Wildlife Trust, said the frequent mowing of golf courses “decimates” insect populations and harms wildlife, adding: “It’s absolutely vital that every area of green space is managed in a way that maximizes biodiversity as opposed to minimizing it.”
She said creating a new nature park at Entry Hill would allow people to get closer to nature, improve air quality, help tackle the climate and ecological emergencies and aid a “green recovery” for Bath.
Adam Gretton, the founder and chair of More Tress for B&NES, said the Avon Wildlife Trust’s proposals were “once in a lifetime opportunity to create a rich wildlife haven” that would appeal to a much broader audience.
Cllr Winston Duguid said a mountain bike park or wildlife park would be a “full-blown visitor attraction” that would transform Entry Hill but there are other more suitable sites.
Cllr Paul Crossley, the cabinet member for communities, said: “With the cuts we are making we cannot continue to subsidise the current model of operation at Entry Hill and Approach. It is not right that public money has continued to support the current model of operation at these two sites.
“I assure everyone that as we go through this process there is not a predetermined outcome.”
He said the council initially planned to make a decision after the consultation but it ignited so much interest there will be an open procurement process that will take the consultation results into account.
Cllr Crossley said there had been lobbying from golfers as well as cyclists. He said the 18-hole course at Approach would remain but the site’s 12-hole facility could be used for “golf-derived sports” like frisbee golf or foot golf.
Other uses that need less space, like trails for walking, places spaces or a forest school, could run alongside any future uses for the two sites.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter