Holt Hall supporters put questions over possible fate to county council
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Supporters of closure-threatened outdoor learning services at Holt Hall have questioned why the county council has not considered working in partnership with other organisations to keep them running there.
Norfolk County Council has been consulting with staff over the future of the services which the county council runs from the hall - which generations of schoolchildren have used for residential trips.
The council insists a final decision has yet to be made, despite John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services previously saying retaining services there would mean “the potential loss of other vital services for children.”And supporters of the services at the Grade II listed Victorian hall, owned by the council since 1947, tabled a string of questions about its future at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled cabinet on Monday.
Nic Hopkins, from the Friends of Holt Hall, said: “I worry that ceasing to provide these services is the wrong choice. Closing the environmental study facilities and grounds risks losing valuable professional skills, experience and reputation for Norfolk and a centre of excellence according to customer feedback assessments.”
He asked the council what work had been done to explore bring in partners to provide existing and extra services at Holt Hall - a question which was also posed by other members of the public at the meeting.
Mr Fisher said: “We are consulting on ceasing the current day and residential provision. We have not sought partnerships, as the approach being evaluated is to leave this market to other providers and taken on the role of strategic enabler.
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“We are not consulting on closing Holt Hall, and the future of the building is not yet decided.”
Questions were also asked as to whether the county council could be confident opportunities for outdoor learning would be provided by ‘the market’ and what research had been carried out to see if there were companies which would offer it.
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Mr Fisher said in 2019/20, 43 Norfolk schools out of over 450, and one Norfolk university, used the residential facilities at Holt Hall - about 7pc of all residential outdoor learning visits undertaken by Norfolk schools.
Sarah Butikofer, Liberal Democrat leader of North Norfolk District Council, asked whether her council would get a say in its future, but Mr Fisher said: “This is a decision for Norfolk’s children’s services to make, as with any other service decision.”
He said staff consultation would end on November 7 and the final decision to end that element of outdoor learning would be taken by Sara Tough, director of children’s services after that. The decision would go to the council’s corporate board for ratification on November 17.
Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor, said: “This is a prejudged, predetermined mess where the decision making process is utterly shambolic.
“They are trying to sneak it in behind the backs of the people of Norfolk who value the services from Holt Hall.
“There has been no attempt whatsoever to increase the income it generates despite obvious opportunities. It now becomes apparent it’s a back door privatisation based on dogma.”