Rushmoor Borough Council is to launch a public consultation asking for views on the possibility of converting Southwood Golf Course into new natural open parkland.
Members of Rushmoor Borough Council’s Cabinet gave the consultation on the proposals the go ahead at its meeting on Tuesday 25 July.
The consultation will be available online at www.rushmoor.gov.uk/southwoodsurvey on Monday 7 August and run through to Friday 22 September giving the public the chance to have their say on the proposals.
The consultation will also include a leaflet drop to homes near the golf course; seeking the views of the golf club operator and golfers; an online survey; and drop-in sessions for both residents and golfers.
At the end of the exercise, the Cabinet will consider carefully all the views received before making a decision on the proposal.
The council is proposing that the area could be opened up to become around 50 hectares of public green space for everyone to enjoy, replacing the golf course. Together with Southwood Woodland and other green open space nearby, this would create a large country park area, offering activities including walking, cycling, trim trails, natural play structures and a community orchard. This new parkland would become what is known as Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).
As Rushmoor sits within the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, which protects ground-nesting birds on local heathlands, housing developers must by law provide, or contribute towards, alternative green space for their residents to use before the council can grant them planning permission. These are called SANGs. Locally, Southwood Woodland, Hawley Meadows and Rowhill Nature Reserve are already SANGs.
Being a SANG permanently protects the land as green public open space, meaning the golf course would never be built on. It also means that the council would use developers’ contributions to pay for its creation and upkeep.
Importantly, Natural England say it would enable the council to grant planning permission for around 2,500 new homes to be built in Aldershot and Farnborough town centres and elsewhere in the borough as identified in the Rushmoor Local Plan. In turn, the new town centre homes would provide the funding needed to support the regeneration of the town centres themselves, as well as bringing new footfall to the areas.
The golf course opened in the late 1970s and became an 18-hole course in 1988. Most of the rounds of golf played there are by casual golfers and visitors and it is popular with those who use it. The club itself has around 175 members, of which half live in Rushmoor.
In recent years, however, overall use of the golf course has reduced significantly and it now costs the council around £40,000 a year to subsidise it. There are also a number of alternative golf courses within a ten-mile radius of Southwood where golfers can turn up and play without being members.
Councillor Martin Tennant, Rushmoor Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Environment and Service Delivery, said: “Converting Southwood into natural open parkland as a SANG would permanently protect the land as green open space, meaning it would never be built on. It would also allow for around 2,500 new homes to be built elsewhere in the borough, as identified in the Rushmoor Local Plan, and support the much-needed regeneration of Aldershot and Farnborough town centres.
“In turn, we would be able to use the developers’ contributions to create the parkland and the facilities it would offer for the benefit of our residents, and then to maintain it going forward. Currently, we are exploring this option very seriously but really want to hear the views of everyone before we make a firm decision.”
Councillor Maurice Sheehan, Rushmoor Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Leisure and Youth, added: “We have looked at many options for SANG space, including with neighbouring councils and other landlords, but because Rushmoor is a small urban borough, there are very limited opportunities available.
“We recognise that golf supports our health and wellbeing agenda and the course is popular with those who use it, even though numbers have dropped in recent years. But given the requirement we have for housing and the demand from residents for town centre regeneration, we have a duty to consider Southwood’s potential and suitability as a SANG.
“As well as seeking the views of residents living in and around Southwood and the wider borough, we will be spending time with the golf course users, members and the club to understand better the impact such a decision would have on them, what their needs might be going forward and what we could do to help mitigate the potential loss of the course.”
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