Bowls vs Pitch and Putt – decision deferred

Last night’s meeting of the Planning Committee deferred for an indeterminate time their decision on the application to convert the Bowls Pavilion to a Café/Restaurant.

The 90 minute discussion had difficulty separating the legal and policy issues in planning legislation from the general debate about whether bowls should be replaced by a commercial catering and pitch and putt business.

The policy issue is that the Pavilion is a community asset – one of the planners said that such buildings were as rare as hen’s teeth – and if they are going to be removed from the community, the correct procedure is to offer the building by advertising to see if there is any other community-based operation which could use it before it is offered to a private commercial business.

Gunnersbury’s Community Interest Company and the pitch and putt business had their first application rejected because they had not done this. They had also failed to do it before they put in their current application. The CIC’s main argument was that they needed the rent (as times are hard) and the pitch and putt company asked the council to override the regulations because they would be more popular than bowls. The café/restaurant is an essential part of their business as the income from playing games of pitch and putt would be insufficient to pay the rent and make a profit.

The Bowls Club is very keen to be allowed back onto the site to restore and refurbish the lawn (it has had lumps of concrete dumped on it), revive their membership and resume activity.

Cllr Guy Lambert had “called it in” last night to help clarify the public debate. As the recommendation was for refusal, no members of the public were allowed to speak, so there was no public debate. The long and at times confused discussion showed that policy decisions about Gunnersbury Park and Museum should be handled by the CIC engaging with stakeholders, politicians and the public, not by making unilateral decisions which can then only be challenged at the planning committee (which had received 64 objections from the public, and none in favour of the café/restaurant application).

(The minutes of the meeting will be published on the Planning Committee web site, probably around 18th February for their 4th March meeting. The meeting was recorded and will become available on the London Borough of Hounslow’s YouTube channel, but we don’t know when.)

James Wisdom
21st January 2021