After months of anticipation over the future of Tamworth's golf course, it has been determined that the course will close in March 2015.
The decision was taken by Tamworth Borough Council's Cabinet following an in-depth examination of all the available options.
A petition of around 126 signatures objecting to the closure of the Golf Course which was presented to the council this week was also taken in to consideration by Cabinet members, led by leader of the council, Councillor Danny Cook.
At a meeting of the cabinet last night (Thursday, January 23), which was attended by around 50 members of the public, the council thanked the golf club committee and course members for their ongoing support.
However, it was determined that the number of users meant the course could not continue to be subsidised at the current rate.
“We took the decision to re-open the course last year. If we were a business we wouldn’t have done it but we are a council that sometimes has to take a leap of faith for our communities,” said Cllr Cook.
“We took that leap and we hoped golfers would return to the course and we have thrown as much money at it as we can, but it hasn’t worked and that breaks my heart.
“I didn’t come in to politics in this town to close the golf course.”
The course, which the council has already invested £100,000 capital funds in this year for improvements, is running at an estimated £100,000 loss this year and it is budgeted for a £142,000 subsidy next year.
A council spokesperson told the Herald that at a time when councils are facing more than 40 per cent reductions in government funding, Tamworth Borough Council – which needs to identify £1.3 million in savings over the next three years with annual deficits of £2.6 million thereafter - could not justify continuing to subsidise the golf course.
The course currently has 230 members - 38 of whom come from outside the borough - who pay an annual green fee. There are also approximately 200 pay and play customers using the golf course each year.
This means that the approximate subsidy per golfer next year would be £355 per golfer. The Cabinet heard how the number of pay and play customers is particularly low in the winter with the course taking £40 or less on some days.
“I know of no other subsidy where an individual is subsidised so much,” said Cllr Cook.
“This council, in the current economic climate, with national austerity and 40 per cent of our budget already cut, cannot continue to run a golf course at such a loss. It’s impossible.
“I know this will be very unpopular, I know it’s going to be difficult and I know there are going to be changes ahead and we need to solve these together, but 77,000 people should simply not pay for 400 people to play golf.”
It was determined that there are not enough members using the course to sustain keeping it open, despite the efforts of the staff, improvements to the course and special offers.
A report by independent company FMG Consulting shows that at least £2.3 million investment is needed to improve the club house to make the course commercially viable.
It has been confirmed that Tamworth Borough Council could not afford to invest in excess of £2million into the course without selling of at least nine holes of the course to raise the funds - something the council has determined to be "too risky" given the decline in golf nationally and locally.
The council also told the Herald that their research has revealed customer opposition to the possibility of a nine-hole course, limited interest from a small number of private operators in a nine-hole course and the likelihood of the business failing over the next few years.
The risk to the tax payer would be too high if an external company could not meet its obligations and the council could face having to subsidise the course again, it was decided.
Financial reports undertaken by the council have also revealed that that if it made the £2.3 million investment over a 25 year period and a private company ran the course at a profit, the council would not see its investment paid back over that period.
The council have confirmed to the Herald that part of the land will be sold to provide much needed housing and part of the site will be used to provide a high quality and accessible parkland.
And a percentage of the income from the sale will be invested into leisure provision across Tamworth - in a bid to compensate for the loss of the course, the impact it will have on the health of members and support participation in other sports.
Cabinet members stressed that the council is committed to working with local residents, especially those local to the course as the process of developing the site moves forward.
More reports will be considered by Cabinet about the process of selling the land and potential development options.
Councillor Steve Claymore, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “This is not a decision we wanted to take, we have put everything we possibly could into the golf course in the last year to make it work, but without more people playing at the course, we just can’t support it.”
“How can we justify keeping it open when it is losing £100,000? We – like all other councils - are facing huge budget cuts, and the golf course is simply something we cannot afford to keep.”
He added: “There are pressures on all public services; currently the County Council is consulting on changes to adult services, youth services and facilities for disabled people across the county. If councils are struggling to fund such vital services, facilities such as golf courses are a luxury we do not have the finances to justify.
“We cannot continue to keep subsiding the course at the rate we have been, when we need to make major budget cuts across the entire council. We need to ensure we can continue to provide essential services for those who need it.”
Following the decision, the golf course will remain open until March 2015. This is subject to the number of customers using the course. Current members will be contacted ahead of the green fee renewal date with a revised tariff.
The council spokesperson added that the money generated by the sale of the course could potentially support other sports and leisure provision in the town and that by investing in other sports more participation could be generated in than current levels at the golf course.