Opinion: Open golf courses for use by the public

Sian Berry wants golf courses open for walking. Picture: PA Images

Sian Berry wants golf courses open for walking. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

As lockdown continues, we all need space to keep physically distant while out on essential tasks like shopping, and to get the exercise we need to keep fit and healthy.

In our overcrowded city, are we missing chances to make more space for everyone to do this?

With many of us living in flats with no outside space, and overcrowding higher in London than in any other city, parks and open spaces are vital, but in short supply in many areas.

The Sunday Times last week looked at the proportion of the population without a green space within 500m of home, and the potential for opening up currently closed golf courses to help.

A surprising number were in London so, with land rights campaigner Guy Shrubsole I’ve looked in more detail at the Times data and found that there are hundreds of golf courses in 20 boroughs across London with the potential to help expand the space available for people without access to green space to get out. And not only that, more than 40 of these golf courses are on council-owned land.

Barnet Council tops the table, with six golf courses near homes in need of space to distance, followed by Harrow, Ealing and Enfield.

Importantly, in the Ham&High area, we also have Muswell Hill Golf Club half-owned by Haringey Council.

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I would urge everyone to sign Guy’s petition at change.org called “Don’t close parks, open up golf courses” to help people across the country, and to call on their council to open up clubs for walking and exercise through the lockdown.

We’re all seeing other pinch points for space, where physical distancing is difficult, outside shops and on pavements on our high streets.

In City Hall, as Green Assembly members I have been working with my colleague Caroline Russell to ask for pavement boundaries to be extended into the roads.

With traffic down by more than half we can make space for people as many other cities around the world are doing.

On Easter weekend, I was so frustrated by the lack of action that I went to Holloway Road and Seven Sisters Road with my phone camera to film the situation and show the potential space we could repurpose to keep people safe.

There are many other “red routes” like these through Camden, Brent, Barnet, Hackney, Haringey and Islington, where the Mayor of London has control of the roads and could take a lead on this, and we’ll be keeping up the pressure to make this happen.

As with so many aspects of this crisis, we are catching up slowly with other countries on this issue too.

London’s boroughs in the last week have been given new relaxed powers to change road layouts in this emergency by national government, so I really hope we make progress now.

It has been frustrating to be left behind and to see so many people forced to pass too close for comfort when they are out shopping. But at last we should now be seeing a rapid transformation of our high streets to put space for people first.