Council ordered to lift lid on controversial golf club talks

The Barnham Broom Hotel, Golf Course and Spa

The Barnham Broom Hotel, Golf Course and Spa which Breckland Council has been trying to sell for several years - Credit: Denise Bradley

A Norfolk council has been ordered to release information about a golf club it owns - which has faced millions in losses.

Controversy has brewed over Breckland Council’s decision to buy Barnham Broom Golf Club in 2006 for £7m.

The authority has spent more than £10m on the property in total - spending another £1.2m on taxes and a further £2m doing it up. 

The council was, as of February of this year, understood to be trying to sell the golf club for a fraction of what it paid –  just £2m.

The golf club has been discussed privately at a number of council meetings, with the press and public excluded on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Green district councillor Timothy Birt

Green district councillor Timothy Birt - Credit: Timothy Birt

After two such meetings were held in January 2021, Green councillor Timothy Birt made a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of those discussions - or at least the less sensitive parts of those discussions - to be made public.

He also asked that the club’s annual rental income over the last ten years be made public. 

The council refused to provide what it said was commercially-sensitive information, so Mr Birt appealed that decision with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has now decided that the requested information should be published. 

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The ICO said the council had “failed to demonstrate” why the minutes and rental income needed to be redacted. 

It added that the council had put forward “generic arguments which contain no reference to the specific information being withheld”. 

And it has ordered Breckland to publish previously redacted details by August 9. 

Breckland Council has voted to extend the Breckland Bridge Partnership. Picture: Archant

Breckland Council has been ordered to release previously-redacted information about Barnham Broom Golf Club - Credit: IAN BURT

At a council meeting on Thursday, July 7, Mr Birt attempted to ask when the council would be following the ICO’s orders. 

But an officer cut him off, saying: “Apologies councillor Birt, we as a council have a set period of time in which to consider the opinion of the ICO, and currently we are taking [legal] counsel’s opinion on it, so it’s not appropriate to discuss it in this forum.”

Mr Birt then asked whether the council would review its previous decisions to exclude the press and public from discussions about the golf club. 

The officer replied that the ICO’s decision notice only relates to one specific query, not all previous exclusions of the press and public. 

Conservative council leader Sam Chapman-Allen said he was unable to comment himself until the legal advice had been received.