Is Holt Hall now lost for the people of Norfolk ?

Holt Hall, and, inset, Tom Green.

Holt Hall, and, inset, Tom Green. - Credit: Archant / Supplied

Tom Green, chairman of the Friends of Holt Hall, shares his views on the county council's sale of Holt Hall to a private bidder. 

For the last two years Friends of Holt Hall worked tirelessly with a number of professional and experienced educational prospective purchasers to produce business plans for a viable and vibrant future for residential and day outdoor and environmental learning at Holt Hall.

These plans included new opportunities for employment and activities for Holt and North Norfolk. These were all rejected in favour of a more substantial bid.

If the property ends up in the hands of a private buyer all the planned public benefit will probably be lost.

Norfolk County Council has agreed to sell Holt Hall to a mystery bidder.

Norfolk County Council has agreed to sell Holt Hall to a mystery bidder. - Credit: Archant

I am not a politician or an activist, but chairman of the Friends of Holt Hall.

Among the trustees of this long-established charity existing to support the outdoor learning work of Norfolk Education are those who have lived or worked at Holt Hall.

All have witnessed the transformative effect and service which school visits to the Hall have provided for generations of Norfolk Children.

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Once the council had made the decision to dispose of this superb public asset we sought to ensure that its rich legacy, developed over decades by successive hard-working Holt Hall staff, would not be totally lost.

Various articles about the sale give an undeserved gloss on the council’s decision, with the only possible crumb of comfort being within the Holt Chronicle in a statement by Holt area councillor Eric Vardy stating that he will be ‘working hard to find a positive outcome for the children of North Norfolk’.

Hopefully he will be more successful than numerous others who have tried to ensure that money from asset stripping is properly ring-fenced and not lost into the general purse.

Like many other people in the Holt area concerned about the loss of this valuable resource, we have significant professional experience in education, as well as in the mental health needs and well-being of young people.

There is now an added opportunity for places like Holt Hall to support the proposed new GCSE in Natural History, along with preparation for worried young people about climate change.

Holt Hall, as we and others have demonstrated, but apparently to deaf ears, could have been a hub of best practice in sustainable growth as we face climatic and environmental crises.

In the context of Holt Hall the remote Norfolk County Council have demonstrated little knowledge of these aspects, or indeed willingness to engage seriously with partnership initiatives to help local communities to thrive.

They have chosen to argue that they have to accept the highest bidder. This was not spelled out adequately during our discussions with them.

Our commitment to the work of Holt Hall, as demonstrated through the Friends of Holt Hall Bursary Scheme for disadvantaged children has been wholly about supporting people. it is wrong for council officials to imply that disappointment at the sale to a private buyer is based on “close ties to the building”

Feedback from schools showed Holt Hall to be perfectly adequate for residential courses, but the council now curiously claims that a massive maintenance bill appears to be needed.

Proper, routine maintenance in the recent past could have avoided this. Our own carefully costed plans for the whole site and those by other potential purchasers demonstrated that better and more imaginative use of the whole estate would have more than covered any perceived financial deficit.

Sadly a county council, apparently dominated by concerns about financial aspects, but willing to spend millions on infrastructure and administrative projects, continues to lack the imagination for creative inter-departmental or community initiatives.

Here we have a gem of a small estate, designated as a County Wildlife Site, and adjacent to a thriving town community and schools.

Having provided education and leisure opportunities for the local and wider Norfolk community over many decades, it looks as if its days as a once valued public asset are finally numbered.