Decision not to seek government intervention over Holt Hall sale defended

Holt Hall environmental and outdoor learning centre

Norfolk County Council leaders have defended selling Holt Hall to a private buyer - Credit: Archant

The decision to sell Norfolk's outdoor learning centre Holt Hall to a mystery buyer to use as housing, rather than to bidders wanting to use it for education, has been defended.

Leaders at Norfolk County Council accepted the highest bid for the Grade II listed Victorian mansion and its 86 acres of land, after putting it on the market last year.

But the council, when it decided to shut a centre used by generations of Norfolk schoolchildren for outdoor learning and residential trips, said at that time it hoped the building could remain as an education centre.

Of the shortlisted bids - whittled down from 20 - two were from bidders who wanted to continue using it for educational purposes.

The winning bidder - the identity of whom has yet to be revealed - tabled an offer of at least at least £2m more than the rival bidders.

But the council could have sought permission from the secretary of state to accept a lower bid - but chose not to.

Norfolk county councillor Paul Neale.

Green county councillor Paul Neale - Credit: Norwich Green Party

And, at a recent meeting of the county council, that prompted a question from Green county councillor Paul Neale about where the money raised from the sale will go.

Mr Neale said: "Much to the dismay of many of us, the council has not only sold off this brilliant facility, but sold it off to a non-educational developer."

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He asked if all the money raised could be ring-fenced for educational purposes.

The council has previously said £1m will be used to support the education of children across the county and ensure "a lasting legacy”.

Greg Peck, cabinet member for commercial services and asset management Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for commercial services and asset management - Credit: Norfolk Conservatives

Greg Peck, the council's cabinet member for commercial services and asset management, said, had the council been minded to accept a lower bid, there was no guarantee the application to the secretary of state to do so would have succeeded.

He said: "Doing that would not necessarily result in the final result that you might want and would cost the council a lot of money."

He said the money from the sale would go into County Hall's capital receipt coffers and it would then be up to the council to decide how to spend it.

When the Conservative-controlled council agreed to shut and sell Holt Hall, officers said low usage had cost the authority more than £270,000 over three years and that £600,000 of maintenance was needed.