Holt Hall set for salvation
An 'inspiring' North Norfolk field studies centre that was threatened with the axe looks set to be saved - for at least three years.
Today's Norfolk County Council overview and scrutiny panel will debate the future of Holt Hall Field Studies Centre, with a recommendation to retain its ownership until September 2013.
A report to the panel concludes that a 'core commitment' to the centre from Norfolk schools has made it viable.
But a similar centre at nearby Wells looks doomed to either be sold or shut down, despite an 11th-hour plea to keep it open.
The report says: 'It seems inevitable that the council should commence the process of disposal of the Wells site. Priority should be given to seeking an organisation wishing to purchase that would be willing to continue to provide educational opportunities through the use of the site and preferably able to continue with a strong environmental and field studies focus.'
A final decision on both centres will be made by the council's cabinet on October 11.
The report said there was a strong feeling that Holt Hall was 'important as an inspiring and unspoilt location for learning in the outdoors'.
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It was seen as a 'gateway to the North Norfolk area of outstanding natural beauty, with members of the public urging the council to open up its use for retreats, family events, camping and survival, artistic courses and nature courses.
The report recommends a 'revitalised and more focused' theme for the schools core residential activity to get term-time use up from the current 70pc level to 90pc.
The council is faced with a budget shortfall of �155m, over the next three years, with significant pressures within the children's services budget. This means any plans for the centres need to be cost neutral to the county council.
Under its current business model the Wells Field Study Centre would only break even if it operated at maximum capacity for 98pc of the year.
The report outlines three options for the centre: Leasing the building to an organisation that has expressed an interest and has an appropriate and viable plan for its use; supporting the development of a new operating model, leading to an either let or fixed period of ownership; or selling the site, with conditions that encourage an educational use.
Brooke House College, which provides pre-university courses and is based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, is willing to lease the building but does not want to take on the maintenance costs.
The council said that the cost of structural and external repairs would be �38,150 over the next five years and that the option would not be viable.