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First of all the acknowledgements.  The picture is my photo of a cartoon which appeared in nytimes.com.  As this is not a commercial activity I hope they won’t mind me using it.  Also acknowledging “Another Angry Voice” – well lots of angry voices actually, but it is important to credit from the outset that I am quoting from Another Angry Voice, a blog by Thomas G. Clark who refers to:-
A closed ideology echo chamber” in respect of The Britain First Facebook page.
The echo chamber is basically a means of brainwashing people into conformity.  One of the points he makes is that:-
“Any group or society in which people who ask awkward questions or present counter-evidence are routinely censored is clearly a closed ideology echo chamber“.
Now let’s think about Lewisham Council, Beckenham Place Park, the public golf course (which has been in place ever since the land was bought by London County Council in 1927) and the Heritage Lottery Fund application.
Admittedly, Lewisham Council cannot censor blogs such as mine or contributors to Beckenham Place Park Facebook pages, Twitter or other blogs, but that doesn’t stop them creating a closed ideology echo chamber by other means and in other forums.
Joseph Goebbels said “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Take for example the Council’s repeated insistence that the public golf course loses money.  It does not.  By applying normal accountancy protocols to measure profit and loss to the usage figures quoted by Lewisham Council the golf course cannot lose money.
The fact that Lewisham Council lose out on this profit can only be attributed to one of, or a combination of, three reasons:-
1)  Incompetence and a clear desire not to address that incompetence
2)  A deliberate plan to set up a contract that loses money in order to justify closure of the golf course
3)  Fraud and/or corruption
Is it any wonder Lewisham Council have tried to implement a closed ideology echo chamber by repeatedly masking the true nature of their contract with Glendale Golf, brain washing people into believing a fallacy.
Then there is their repeated insistence, another closed ideology echo chamber, that the proposed new scheme for Beckenham Place Park is a restoration of parkland.  It is not.  It is an attempt to mimic the landscape of the private estate owned by 18th Century landed gentry, part of which would have been used for animal grazing and part of which would have been for hunting and fishing – and certainly would not have had a railway line running through it!  By repeating the mantra that they are restoring parkland, it plants the seed that somehow golfers have stolen public park space away from the people. The golf course has always been a feature of the wider park but the Council try to brain wash people into another fallacy.
In what other ways does this closed ideology echo chamber work?  One means is to insist that you have consulted the people and that you continue to consult the people, when clearly you do not, and have not done so, in any meaningful way.
Just as Lewisham Council try to mask the true nature of the golf course finances, so they also use smoke and mirrors when it comes to “consultations.”
Closed ideology echo chamber: the results of their 2014 “consultation” about the future of Beckenham Place Park were presented to Heritage Lottery Fund in percentage terms only, so they were unaware that only 175 people had completed questionnaires relating to such a major decision i.e. the removal of the golf course.
Closed ideology echo chamber: the 2014 “consultation” involved, apparently, “speaking to” 300 people/organisations, from which they garnered the 175 questionnaires, only 62 of which chose the option (one of four) the Council Officers and Land Use Consultants had already decided they wanted for the park.  And because they deliberately split the vote across three golf options they claim, time and time and time again, that most people voted for a scheme to radically change landscape.
Closed ideology echo chamber: as a daily user of the park I was not aware of a “consultation” in 2014.  The Friends of Beckenham Place Park only found out via golfers – whom the Council were required to consult by Heritage Lottery Fund, otherwise they probably would not have been included.  As it was, these Stakeholders were only given one weeks notice of this “consultation” which lots of non-Stakeholders were invited to attend.
Closed ideology echo chamber: the long standing forum, Beckenham Place Park Working Party, were repeatedly ignored or marginalised in the run up to the “Consultation” and that has remained the case since.
Closed ideology echo chamber: Council Officer refused to put the 2014 “consultation” materials online prior to submission of the application form to Heritage Lottery Fund
When the attention of Heritage Lottery Fund was drawn to this state of affairs they advised that they expected a more vigorous consultation process at Stage 2.
Closed ideology echo chamber: the Stage 2 consultations have commenced with focus groups of invited people – again no public notices have been displayed to advise/invite wider park users to a focus group meeting.  The focus groups have not addressed the issue of the golf course, they are merely to garner opinion about what activities people might like in the “new”park.  And, as readers of one of my previous blogs will have seen, an online Children and Young People Survey is tempting them to respond to the carrot of lots of expensive activities, without addressing what the park will be losing or whether such activities as zorbing and skegway are feasible or affordable.
Closed ideology echo chamber: campaigners presenting a paper petition of over 5,700 signatures to Lewisham Council’s Sustainable Development Select Committee last month were allowed 10 minutes to present their case: Officers had no such time constraint.  Campaigners, who have a thorough knowledge (unlike most Councillors) of the issues pertaining to Beckenham Place Park, the public golf course and the Heritage Lottery Fund bid (through extensive research), were not allowed to question Officers.
Closed ideology echo chamber: another example is the Mayor and Cabinet paper The Future of Beckenham Place Park, with appendices, for the meeting scheduled to take place on 17 February 2016.  I would say take a look at the paper written by the Officers driving this scheme, but it is obviously designed to confuse and reinforces all the misleading statements and deceptions that campaigners have been pointing out for several years.
But if you do want to get a flavour of how the closed ideology echo chamber in action works, take a look at the much shorter appendix 6 and see how the Officer’s responses match up to the actual questions asked.  I say responses because that is what they are; they are not answers.
I tell you what, just to save you the bother of looking it up on the website I have copied and pasted at the end of this blog 1) the questions 2) the responses and 3) campaigners’ comments on the responses advised to the Mayor today.
However, if you do want to look at this closed ideology echo chamber in action yourself, go to the Lewisham Council website, click on Mayor & Council, Council meetings, Meetings calendar and click on 17/2/16 (6pm) where all the documents can be downloaded.
What is this closed ideology trumpeted by Lewisham Council about Beckenham Place Park?   Well, it’s a number of things:-
1) the ideology that says the history of privilege of 18th Century gentry is more important than the working class sporting heritage of the 20th Century.
2) the ideology that says an 18th Century Mansion House cannot co-exist with a public golf course.  Untrue, a quick internet search reveals other historic buildings coexisting with golf courses –  Manor House, Castle Combe, in Wiltshire; Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, Moor Park in Hertfordshire, Whiston Hall in Staffordshire, Mansion House, Elgin, in Morayshire; Norwood Park, Stapleford Hall in Leicestershire, Ashridge in Hertfordshire, Ashdown Park in Sussex, Hampton Court, Wollaton Park, Nottingham.
English Heritage address the issue positively in their document Golf in historic parks and landscapes.
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3) the inverted snobbery and lazy ideology that equates golf as elitist, despite Beckenham Place Park public golf course being totally inclusive and easily accessible.
4) the patronising and lazy ideology that says people who chose not to be frequent visitors to parks – other than for obvious, basic reasons such as an unappealing lack of toilets, tatty infrastructure and lack of signage – can somehow be frog-marched into using a park of 240 acres if only a golf course of 90 acres was removed.  That those who actually would like to use a park improved by intelligent, imaginative and responsible application of public funds will not do so because it contains a golf course and they would not be prepared to wander from the confines of the areas close to “heritage” buildings.
5) the ideology that cyclists are a superior breed and must be catered for no matter what; that a popular public golf course should give way to cyclists when there is room for both and an ideology that says a large park is somehow inferior unless it has a lake.
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What’s this – “no need to seek payment to cover costs”?   Apparently a lake will look after itself?  A lake that not only – apparently – will support messing about on the water, but also open water swimming, and will not need to be kept constantly refreshed, cleaned, weed and silt free or address other health and safety issues.  No costs – really?
As Abraham Lincoln said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Take note Lewisham Council that lots of people are not fooled by either Britain First’s or your closed ideology echo chamber.
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Appendix 6 (I have not listed the questions in original number order):-

Question 2 to Lewisham Council: In the event that the scheme currently proposed by the Regeneration Department were to be approved, what is the detailed breakdown of income per annum that will be delivered by the intended “improvements” and what is the corresponding annual cost anticipated for maintenance of the park? 

Officer’s response: the likely level of income per year has yet to be fully modelled, as it is dependent on a range of factors.

The maintenance cost of the park cannot be defined until the designs for the park have progressed further.

A ten year management and maintenance plan, forecasting both income and costs is required by the HLF as part of the Round 2 submission, to demonstrate how improvement will be sustained. This will be prepared in line with the final design ready for submission in August 2016. 

Campaigners’ comment: For the reasons explained the officers are not able to comment on future maintenance costs at this time. Given that information is not yet available, how can any coherent business case be made for closure of the golf course at present to be replaced by a new, uncosted, scheme?

Question 5 to Lewisham Council:  Given that the Heritage Lottery Fund case paper to its Trustees (based on Lewisham Council’s application form) says that there will be a “Sporting programme in partnership with Greenwich Tritons Triathlon Club” could the Officers explain:

 – How that partnership will work; what those sports will be?

– How the niche and expensive sport of Triathlon will be more accessible to local residents than the public golf course?

– What new sports introduced into the park will provide a positive revenue stream and which elements will incur net cost?

– What is the projected financial contribution of Greenwich Tritons towards maintenance of the lake to a high enough standard to accommodate the Triathlon discipline of swimming and have Greenwich Tritons endorsed this prediction?

–  Have the costs of the onerous ongoing health and safety obligations of introducing a lake into the park been included in the annual maintenance costs?

Officer’s response: Our aim is to enable a range of sporting activities and for most of these to be free for visitors to enjoy. Most activities like walking, cycling and running incur little or no extra cost to the Council, so unlike golf there is no need to seek payment to cover costs. Activities under consideration include:

Family cycling/mountain bike elements

Kayaking and topper sailing for children (with Wide Horizons) 

Orienteering, low and high ropes 

New running and walking routes including weekly Park Run 

Exploring the possibility of open water swimming

Some of these activities may generate modest income but without significant maintenance costs. The cost of the lake will be factored into the costs for the park.

Campaigners’ comment: In their response, Officers have completely side-stepped most of the issues, including the fact that the Heritage Lottery Fund case paper to its Trustees refers to a sporting programme in partnership with Greenwich Tritons Triathlon Club.  Does this mean that Heritage Lottery Fund’s Trustees have been misled?

Officers have not explained how the niche and expensive sport of Triathlon will be more accessible to local residents than public golf.  Triathlon is not a free sport; it incurs costs in being a member of a club and having high specification equipment, clothing and accessories which cannot be hired.

Officers have not addressed the costs of maintenance of a lake to a high enough standard to accommodate the triathlon discipline of swimming, a sport they have quoted as wishing to provide in their Future of Beckenham Place Park paper to you and, indeed, has been advised to the Trustees of Heritage Lottery Fund.

It may be an aspiration to provide free sport (unlike, for example, charging for football pitches elsewhere in the borough) and therefore not accrue a revenue stream, but Officers have not explained how the costs to provide these activities will be addressed, including health and safety costs.

Question 9 to Lewisham Council: Would officers explain why they terminated the processing of the tender bid from Beckenham Place Community Trust to lease the Mansion House and restore it to community use whilst accommodating the operation of the golf course (and which would likely to have been achieved by now) and has the council developed its own plan to renovate the Mansion House?

Officer’s response: The Council decided to attempt to develop a holistic vision for the park, which would resolve the issues with the park and buildings, rather than attempting to restore the mansion alone.

We have now secured funding for the restoration of 3 out of the 4 listed buildings in the park. We have also been participating in the HLF’s mansions working group, which shares best practice from completed projects to support the development of new proposals for buildings that they would like to see restored and repurposed. The HLF have indicated their desire to see a proposal for the restoration of the mansion in due course and we will tackle this next phase as the project progresses.

Erm … the funding is yet to be confirmed!

Campaigners’ comment: The Officer response refers to developing a holistic plan.  There is no holistic plan for the park.  There is one scheme to change landscape in the west of the park and bring some buildings into use.  There is another proposed scheme for the east of the park which has not yet been signed off (as at 26/1/16) by Environment Agency Chief Executive and partnership funding is yet to be secured.  Then there will be yet another future application for the Mansion House.

Compare this to the Mansion House (and Homesteads as per the tender) having already been restored (or close to) via Beckenham Place Community Trust and the opportunities for funding applications to Heritage Lottery Fund to secure smaller grants for other improvements.  All that has been achieved for the Mansion House is Officer participation on a mansions working group and no foreseeable prospect of the mansion being restored.

Question 7 to Lewisham Council: Given that the HLF case paper says there will be a “Learning programme to include Forest Schools in partnership with Wide Horizons, and more informal activities such as nature walks and pond dipping, and given that Wide Horizons brought 150 children from Tower Hamlets into the park on 2 July 2015 for a field study and coexisted with the golf course, and given that the park is 237 acres and the golf course only takes up 90 acres, would officers explain:-

– Why the golf course has to make way for Wide Horizons when both communities could easily coexist?

– What income from Wide Horizons has been assumed and have Wide Horizons endorsed this prediction?

Officer’s response: some environmental education can and does take place around the golf course. However, local schools in the survey we have undertaken identified several barriers to using the park for environmental education currently, these include:

No facilities in case of bad weather, no indoor learning space, nowhere to eat lunch. However, the HLF scheme enables restoration of the 18th Century stable block offering a fantastic base for schools activities as well as a new café and toilets for the general public. Lack of clear communication, learning resources and experienced people to lead outdoor activities. However, the HLF scheme will enable Wide Horizons to provide a new learning base for local schools to benefit from outdoor education and teambuilding activities. It will be staffed by experienced outdoor learning co-ordinators with the necessary resources to make this a practical and cost effective way to bring the curriculum to life for local children.

The golf course does not have to make way for environmental education but its dominance of space does inhibit use of a large area around the visitor hub for education or other uses.

The Council does not expect to generate income from the provision of environmental education and our focus is primarily on creating a sustainable resource for local schools and children to enrich their education. 

Campaigners’ comment: The only straightforward answer, as far as it goes.  However, as Mal Mitchell, Friends of Beckenham Place Park, has pointed out to Council Officers, the main opportunities for on-the-ground environmental education are provided by the ancient woodlands and the natural river, neither of which are impacted by existence of the golf course.  The presence of the golf course close to the proposed visitor hub is an excuse, not a valid reason to close the golf course.

Question 8 to Lewisham Council: The HLF case paper refers to volunteer programmes and apprenticeships, would officers please explain why this cannot be achieved with the golf course in place?

Officer’s response: the proposed apprenticeship programmes are supported by HLF funding and whilst it is possible to deliver apprenticeships with the golf course in place it is unlikely that HLF funding would be forthcoming if the course remained open, as it inhibits use by the wider public.

Campaigners’ comment:  This is a meaningless, unquantifiable, unsupported response.

Question 4 to Lewisham Council: Which elements of the “new” user community will contribute to the running costs and what is the additional annual cost? 

Officer’s response: As with almost all parks there is no plan to charge the users for the enjoyment of the space. If they decide to utilise the new café, then through their patronage they will be supporting the rental income the Council receives from the café operator. In time, as other buildings are restored, they will find new occupiers and it is stable income from these occupiers which will support the park’s running costs. 

Campaigners’ comment: whilst we understand the answers the Officers have given, the leap in faith required that the new revenue streams will materialise and generate sufficient revenue is just that a ‘leap of faith’.  With no firm commitments made beyond the running of a café, is it the right time to close a profitable golf course (which also generates café income) that could further improve its performance with some TLC. 

Question 6 to Lewisham Council: Given that the new “masterplan” for the park shows a large events space in the west to be spread over half a dozen holes of the golf course, and given that there is no viable access for deliveries of equipment for events to that space (the Mansion House has to be kept clear of vehicles in keeping with its 18C setting), and given that the same problem applies to parking for large numbers of extra visitors, can officers explain:
– How realistic is it to have an events space there?
– Who has expressed interest in hiring that space?
– What is the detailed breakdown of anticipated income per annum of the currently proposed events scheme and what is the corresponding annual cost anticipated?  (HLF require a 10 year plan for all costings.)
– Have those who have expressed an interest in hiring the events space endorsed the costings?
There may be a bund created in the east of the park as part of the Flood Alleviation Scheme which would lend itself to a natural amphitheatre and there is easy vehicular access, so why is the focus of this aspect of the current scheme in the western part of the Park? (The FAS is expected to come into play only once in every 65 years.) 

Officer response: A variety of events could take place in the park and different settings could be used depending on the nature of the event and its particular requirements. Factors like access for setting up and clearing at the end of an event will be considered as part of the planning for each event. As work to the park is some years from completion we have not yet marketed the park for events but two events managers have approached the Council with an interest in developing proposals which they feel will be successful. The Council has experience of managing spaces for events successfully and will bring this to bear when the scheme is completed.
The management and maintenance plan will outline any assumptions made about events income and expenditure and will be prepared for submission with the Stage 2 bid to the HLF.

Campaigners’ comments: This question refers to the planned ‘events space’ in the West of the Park and the issue of viable access for equipment deliveries given the Mansion House has to be kept clear of vehicles in keeping with the 18 century setting.

The Officers answers have little substance and we would have thought that, given the two years they have been working on the plan, they could have adequately answered more of the questions.

Question 3 to Lewisham Council: Based upon the Council’s own (disputed as low) golf course usage figures, the golfing community is currently paying approximately £350,000 per annum to Glendale to use the golf course in Beckenham Place Park (plus café income from golfers.)  Noting that the Council pay the maintenance costs could someone please explain why such a disadvantageous subcontract with the golf course and café operator (Glendale) has been negotiated and why no steps are being taken to openly compete this service provision, even though suitably qualified service providers are currently expressing interest in delivering a mutually financially advantageous arrangement.  There is established precedent for this approach in other London Boroughs.

Officer’s Response: The golf course generates significantly lower income than £350,000.

OK, sorry, I have to interject here.  What the officer means is that the golf course generates significantly lower income for the council.  The income coming into the golf course through Glendale’s tills/online system is not the same thing as income to the council – see how the closed ideology echo chamber is working here? 

Historically, people making use of Beckenham Place Park’s golf course have had a tendency to seek out the better value green fee offers and to pursue membership offers which reduce the costs to regular players.
The current Glendale contract was put in place in 2012, following two harsh winters, which led to a low in the number of rounds played each year (16,500), as an interim measure whilst regeneration plans for the park were developed. The Council wished to transfer risk to the golf operator, to enable certainty in financial planning and ensure appropriate maintenance of the park in the meantime. The following three tables show how much the golf course was losing individually, then in combination with the café. The final table shows the lower level of loss incurred under the less risky interim management arrangements designed to allow better budgeting for the parks service.

Sorry, I don’t have the “know how” to insert these misleading and questionable tables, you will have to look them up yourself. 

Campaigners’ comment: The answers provided by the Officers to the question about the Glendale contract are in doubt, based on the belief the course is profitable if the Profit & Loss is addressed in a conventional way.

Question 1 to Lewisham Council: Given that it is possible to achieve nearly all the elements Lewisham Council wants for Beckenham Place Park with the golf course in place, and given that at the Beckenham Place Park Working Party meeting in May 2015 John Thompson of Greenscene stated that maintenance costs for the park are largely staff, and that he did not anticipate any reduction in staff if the golf course closes, would officers explain how losing golf income improves Lewisham Council’s financial situation and identify what replacement income streams are envisaged.

Officer’s response: Use of the golf course has declined by 60% over the last 20 years and deriving a positive revenue stream from the remaining users has proved difficult.

According to the Council’s latest figures usage of the golf course showed a year on year 15% rise.

In 2010 the Council invited competitive tenders from golf providers for the management and maintenance of the golf course including restoration of the Homesteads. Only one provider of the 5 invited submitted a bid and that proposal subsequently proved unaffordable.

Erm … and the current Glendale contract is “affordable?”  I wonder what obstacles were put in the way of other tenders? 

In the absence of a viable management, maintenance and investment package an interim contract was agreed with Glendale Golf, which involved transferring elements of course and catering management to them (including staff under TUPE and building costs) together with course income, in return for a fixed fee to the Council. This transfer of certain staff & building costs together with the risk on the level of income allowed the Council to achieve a modest level of investment in the course and café offer whilst achieving greater certainty on income and expenditure for the parks service, whose budgets were under pressure.

There is no “investment!”

The income the Council receives under the contract is far lower than the cost of maintaining and managing the course. If the course were to close then the significant staff time spent on its maintenance could be used to manage the east side of the park which would yield a saving in the Glendale parks contract. In addition specialist equipment for maintaining the course would no longer need to be hired or purchased, yielding further savings.

Council officers envisage generating future revenues primarily through letting buildings within the park – the homesteads, the ‘cottages’ within the eighteenth century courtyard, the Foxgrove Club and eventually the mansion.  Further income may also be generated through holding events in the park, or through commercial operation of outdoor activities such as kayaking or high ropes. The ‘Round 2’ submission will model this alternative income and be submitted to the HLF in August 2016.

Access to capital funding as a result of opening up the park for greater use is the primary benefit resulting from the change. The £4.9 million funding awarded is the equivalent of 76 years income from the current golf arrangements and offers an opportunity to restore and repurpose the listed buildings. The vision for the park also creates the foundation for a further bid for funds to restore the mansion, which is likely to cost a further £3-4 million.

The hoped for £4.9 million funding award is a capital grant and it is disingenuous to equate it to income.  Heritage Lottery Fund has appropriate grants programmes for buildings and one wonders why the Council applied for a Parks for People programme grant – which will push people (and a funding stream) out of the park.

Campaigners’ response: allowing for the fact the golf course has been proven to be profitable, question one answers from the Officers are not relevant. We are aware from attendance at two of the latest consultation sessions in February, that when the Officers are asked about new revenue streams to replace golf it is very sketchy and no real indications and commitments are advised to have been agreed with third parties. 

 

 

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