Leader and top councillor miss meeting with campaigners over Sandwell open space

The leader of Sandwell Council and a senior councillor responsible for regeneration have both missed a meeting with campaigners calling for s much-loved green space not to be built on.

Brandhall Golf Course
Brandhall Golf Course

Brandhall urban village, a controversial development proposed by Sandwell Council, is part of its objective to build more affordable housing, a new school, and regeneration in the borough. It follows the regional Black Country Plan, signed up to by all four Black Country councils – including Sandwell – to deliver investment and growth in the region.

But leaked documents this month show a large majority of local people do not want the former Brandhall golf course to be built upon.

The consultation, previously hidden from the public, revealed over 83 per cent of people said they did not agree to homes being built on the site. The council admitted the majority of comments received wished to “preserve” the site as it is.

A peaceful protest will take place on Wednesday, before Sandwell council makes its final decision.

Sources close to Sandwell Council have said that out of the nine cabinet members responsible for authorising key decisions in Sandwell, only five of them showed up to a meeting with campaigners. They were councillors Bob Piper, Simon Hackett, Suzanne Hartwell, Charn Singh Padda, and Laura Rollins.

Councillors Harnoor Bhullar and Jay Anandou also attended the visit. But according to the source, the leader of Sandwell council, Kerrie Carmichael, and Peter Hughes, the cabinet member responsible for regeneration and growth, did not turn up.

It is unclear why Councillor Carmichael did not accept the invitation by Brandhall Green Space Action Group (BGSAG), the campaigning group against the development of the golf course. When asked why Councillor Hughes did not attend the visit, Sandwell Council said Councillor Hughes had a “pre-arranged commitment”.

Councillor Hughes separately said: “Cabinet members were pleased to accept the invitation to visit Brandhall, although it was made clear in advance of the visit that it would not be possible to find a time when all cabinet members were available.

“Both the leader of the council and I have visited Brandhall on other occasions and received correspondence from the BGSAG.

“We will carefully consider all views as cabinet members now move on to choose from the range of detailed options for the future of the site. We will also look closely at the findings from both the public consultation and additional information gathered by officers over recent months.

“This will help us to choose which of the five options best meets the future needs of the local community, and Sandwell as a whole.”

It comes as documents show the cost to buy Brandhall Golf Course – subject to Sandwell Council approval – will be £3 million. A community infrastructure levy and a capital grant from the Department of Education, will boost the sale to a total of £10 million.

Critically, the council also factored in a judicial review as a likely risk to the council if the development were to go ahead, including “reputational impact for the council”.

Brandhall Golf Course was once run by Sandwell council. It closed in May 2020 after the council said it was spending £275,000 a year subsidising the course, and the space has since been left to grow wild.

BGSAG, made up of residents from Old Warley, Langley, and Bristnall council wards, continues to campaign to keep the land for local people. Residents close to the golf course say the green space has helped them to manage their mental health during the pandemic, and campaigners hope to keep the green space accessible to all.

Last month, Sandwell Council passed a report updating its green space strategy for the borough. The ‘Green Spaces Strategy Implementation and Business Plan 2022-25’, a bumper 113-page document outlined the council’s commitment to green spaces to “reduce health inequalities, loneliness, dementia, disability, and improve physical, mental health, and wellbeing”.

Brandhall is only mentioned once, in reference to allotment usage. The former golf course was not mentioned once in the document as either green space or as a nature reserve.

Ian Bennett, chair of BGSAG, said: “Following our recent invitation to Sandwell councillors and the cabinet to come and view the green space at Brandhall, we were happy that some of the cabinet took up this offer to walk around the green space, see some of the features and layout of the space, and engage in open and respectful discussions.

“With feelings running high, on both sides of the debate, the visit was never going to solve all the issues and points of contention but we did at least start the process of meaningful dialogue which has long been a point of much frustration with local residents.

“The residents have already spoken through the public consultation asking the council not to develop on their beloved green space. Now it is for the Sandwell cabinet who are supposed to represent the residents to listen and make the decision for them.”

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