Comment: Could community ownership save Middleton Park Golf Course?

Photo: Steve Williamson

So Middleton Golf Course faces closure as Leeds City Council seeks to make more than £50 million in savings.

The official line from on high is that the council has already made £145m in savings over the past two years and yet more are needed. Council leader Keith Wakefield says the focus ought to be on frontline services such as social care.

The council says Middleton Park Golf Course, along with Gotts Park in Armley, are both run at a loss and the numbers using them continue to decline.

A report read by senior councillors added:

“There is no evidence that those who use the courses would be unable to access other facilities in the city. Returning the golf courses to parkland will achieve savings and also open up large areas of land to general public use.”

The council will make its final decisions on its budget in February.

So I guess, playing devil’s advocate, there are some pretty strong mitigating circumstances surrounding the council’s plans.

Bunkered! Photograph: Steve Williamson


I was taken by a recent South Leeds Life post by community reporter Steve Williamson (ironically written days before the council’s proposals became public). Steve argued those who hadn’t  been to play golf in Middleton had missed a treat. He went on to extoll the health and wellbeing values of playing golf – and the spectaular views over the city.

Steve, who hails from Beeston, also says how it’s actually quite a cheap pastime:

“Golf’s good exercise, you can play with people of greatly differing standards and unlike, say squash, you are unlikely to die of a heart attack if you play in your twilight years. It’s also cheap.

“My wife, predicting there was a risk that I’d clutter up the house getting bored when I retired, hunted down a set of clubs and a trolley from a charity shop (total cost £45). You can buy lake balls for about 25p each and if you’re over 60 with a Leeds card you can play 18 holes midweek for £8.40 at Middleton. Given that I don’t always (okay, ever) take the shortest route between tee and green and par is a land never visited my progress round the course is slow… I reckon the costs work out at about 3.5p per minute’s entertainment. When I compare this with my other love – opera – it seems incredibly good value – but that’s another story…”

Those who use the course – which sits next to a private course –  say it is reasonably well used. Has part of the problem been that age old problem of the council not marketing its facilitiers properly to the local community?

You see it all over the city when sports facilities  face closure …  The plight of South Leeds Sports Centre springs immediately to mind.

Either way, there seems enough groundswell of opinion to warrant at least a debate over the proposals.

After all, in South Leeds we’ve already seen the previously mentiuoned South Leeds Sports Centre close despite a heroic rearguard action by the Splashback campaign – and Middleton Leisure Centre has lost its swimming pool (by the way – any sign of that centre reopening yet?). Surely the area can’t continue to be stripped of its leisure facilities? That’s a point which certainly seems to rankle with a lot of people.

So what’s the answer? Well hopefully the council will consult the public on this proposal. The council certainly SHOULD consult. If it continues to run the golf course it needs to be promoted properly – how can it get more people to use it? Is it possible to get local schools and youth clubs involved?

If they press ahead with closure plans, then the council will need to get creative. That means the inevitable rumours of a so-called asset transfer – where the course would be changed from council ownership into community ownership via a local community group or business.

If you look across the city, turning over council facilities to community ownership has been very mixed. Despite some very good people being involved the figures just didn’t add up for the proposed community takeover of South Leeds Sports Centre – and the folks in Hyde Park would love to turn the abandoned Royal Park School into a community hub. But again, the figures just don’t work.

That said a community bid to run Bramley Baths has been successful (the Friends of Bramley Baths  are due to take ownership this month) and the Headingley Development Trust seems to be making a fair fist of enterprise/community centre Heart, which was transformed from an old school building a couple of years ago.

Could the private gold course in Middleton find the land of use?

I saw this comment on Facebook the other day:

“This [the closure] is awful. My family have being members there for years. I am interested in getting involved to help keep the course open.”

Perhaps enough people, somewhere, will be passionate enough – and brave enough – to try take on this loss-making facility. But it’ll be hard work.

Perhaps the answer is, after all, to let the course become parkland? Let’s p;lant trees there? Get some different type of green habitats there? But they’ll need maintaining and that means cost, and that’s something the council doesn’t have …

View from Middleton Golf Course. Photograph: Steve Williamson

Truth is, there are no easy answers.

The council could run it and promote it better if there’s enough public outcry, the facilities could move into community ownership or it could become parkland or woodland. Like nature intended.

What’s important here is that people HAVE A SAY on what their community. Don’t let this decision – whatever happens – pass without making your voices heard. Contact the council, your local councillors, your MP and make your feelings known – evejn if you’re not opposed to closure.

This proposed closure mustn’t just pass with a shrug of the shoulders or apathy. Be heard. This is YOUR community, use YOUR voice.

2 Replies to “Comment: Could community ownership save Middleton Park Golf Course?”

  1. When I found out last week of the possible closure of Middleton park golf course it left me feeling extremely sad and really quite upset, as back in the 70s &amp 80s I was a junior member spending probably thousands of hours of my youth with my close friends playing the course
    I guess this is just another sad inditement of a council that its current members will be gone &amp forgotten about in just a few years but unfortunately we will be left with their selfish legacy. I am also to believe that Gotts Park is also to close ! A golf club that my late father was the professional at in the 1950s.

    Unless governments &amp councils understand that affordable access to golfing facilities for Everyday working people and especially for young people, we all might have chosen less community friendly pursuits.

    Golf should not only be for those in society who can afford private facilities !

    I hope you will publish this letter in your next issue


    Laurie Harris

  2. Apart from some personal sadness – having retired I have just taken up golf and was planning to get a season ticket for the Council’s courses – it concerns me that this is the destruction of an asset that has been in existence over 70 years and once lost won’t be recreated.

    Although golf was not an Olympic sport in 2012 – it will be in 2016 – it is sad that a pastime that provides good exercise for people into their 80s (and no doubt beyond) is perhaps not recognised for the beneficial effects it produces. With a growing older population I would guess the saving to the NHS through people remaining active is quite considerable.

    It is true that the process of playing privately has declined – and I plan to do some more research about this – but a nine hole course I play in Scotland costs £22 for 18 holes round compared to £8.40 at Middleton Park. As you would expect the private course is better maintained than Middleton Park but one of the problems is that the Council has not managed either to sustain the investment required to keep the course in the best condition and it has been very poor at advertising the facility.

    Laurie’s point about affordable access to golf facilities is well made – the courses the Council is planning to close are located in the poorer parts of Leeds.

    I fully appreciate that the Council has been placed in a very difficult position by the present government and has to make substantial savings but think it should try to avoid destroying assets which is what this decision amounts to.

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