WHAT THE PAPERS SAY
Golf Project on hold as investor reviews options
Kingswoodbury Farm, Baldock in Hertfordshire is set close by Stevenage and Hitchin and is about to be within ten minutes of a 10,000 unit housing estate. In an area that already has a need for further golf courses to meet the swelling demand, Kingswoodbury is akin to the Royal Mint in ability to generate cash. But other treasures have got in the way, treasures that are buried and will almost certainly remain that way for ever. "The point is" said Eichler, "that some archaeology definitely exists, we know about it and have been careful to preserve it in the design of the golf course - the mediaeval moated site for example. The difficulty comes from the original assumption, proved correct, that other significant remains are still hidden. Therefore, before we could risk damaging them by building, we needed to know what and where they were. That cost money, quite a lot of money".
'Aye, there's the rub'. John Cherry is the landowner who wants to build the course, at least the landowner who wanted to build the course, now he's not so sure. "I bought the 420 acre site and all the buildings back in 1989. The plan was to build a golf course. Subsequent events have caused me to think again. For example the cost of carrying out all the necessary surveys, the fact that the land has increased in value dramatically over the last ten years, the changes in my business life, even the lack of time I have spare. I might well still go ahead but I am not in a rush anymore". And why should he be, the income from the buildings alone amounts to a tidy sum and the land value has indeed rocketed.
The archaeological implications of a golf course development were studied and formalised by Letchworth Museum which, in a letter dated October 1990, pointed out that: "In an area of demonstrably historic landscape, such as Kingswoodbury, there is considerable potential for there to exist other significant buried archaeological remains which are as yet undiscovered. Although your golf course design is very sensitive to visible historic landscape features (for instance, ancient hedges), there will inevitably be a large amount of earth moving for the construction of a clubhouse, access ways, greens, bunkers, services and other features. Should there be other archaeological remains, if any earthmoving (or even tree planting) affects them it could be very damaging. However, if you were aware of any such historic remains beforehand, they could almost certainly be accommodated by the design of the golf course, and thus preserved".
A lot of 'ifs', but understandably so according to Eichler, "This was not guess work on their part. They are professionals just like I am and they can predict what was likely to be there." Correct on all counts, the survey was arranged (at a cost of £11,000 to Cherry) and the results were astonishing - prehistoric burials, Celtic coin, Iron/Bronze Age settlements, Romano/British Settlements of National importance the list was long. The end of the line? Surprisingly no, the archaeologists, while adamant on preservation, were extremely keen to cooperate, compromise and facilitate.
Two main areas of importance were highlighted and effectively taken out of the frame but the rest of the site was still big enough and good enough to continue with the, albeit revised, golf course. Indeed the mediaeval moat could be restored and filled with water to create a wonderful feature. But Cherry was beginning to lose a little bit of heart. His business partner retired, thus putting further burden on him and the prospect of much negotiation, cash input and sheer hard labour began to seem like an unnecessary travail. Especially as the land began to increase its revenue and capital value.
So, ten years on, Cherry is biding his time and, some would say, rightly so. The golf course, while likely to provide a good financial return, would require a deal of capital investment, the inevitable running costs and, above all in Cherry's case, time. Why add to an already busy schedule when there is no loan outstanding on the property which is providing a steady income as it stands? But it is unlikely to rest here, the options are legion - perhaps another investor would be prepared to share the burden, maybe even make a good enough offer for the site (with the planning permission still intact), maybe Cherry will consider that the opportunity to build the golf course is still too tempting to resist. Whatever happens, the lessons are obvious; it is difficult to foresee every single problem with a change of land use application, it can be frustrating for a contractor to be at the mercy of both the local authorities and an understandably cautious client, it can also be a long process to get a golf course built on what appears to be a fantastic site. "Looking at this land" said Eichler, "I just couldn't wait to make the subtle changes needed to turn it into a golf course. So many of the holes were just ready to have the greens built and the fairways defined - it just seemed that it was waiting for a golf course to be formalised. I haven't given up hope by any stretch of the imagination and when it is finally built I know that it will be very special".