‘A complete shambles’ – no final decision on Holt Hall despite councillor’s statement

Holt Hall Environmental & Outdoor Learning Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Holt Hall Environmental & Outdoor Learning Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

No final decision has been made on the future of a much-loved outdoor education centre – despite a councillor saying the centre was to close and leading another to call the handling of the matter a “complete shambles”.

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Picture: Norfolk County

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Picture: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council has said it can no longer afford to run Holt Hall and plans to close the centre.

On Wednesday, councillor John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at the Conservative-run council, told this paper: “We have now started a formal employment consultation with staff, outlining our proposal to end our delivery of outdoor learning at Holt Hall.

“Even with this year’s proposed budget savings we have a £15m gap in our budget, so retaining Holt Hall would mean the potential loss of other vital services for children.”

Mr Fisher also appeared on Radio Norfolk talking about the closure of outdoor learning at the Grade II listed Victorian Hall which was been owned by the local authority since 1947.

But it has emerged that Mr Fisher may have spoken too soon and the final decision to close the Hall, which is the second largest provider of both outdoor learning residential stays and outdoor learning day visits in the county, has not been made yet.

‘Despicable’: anger as Holt Hall to close after 70 years

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour’s lead for children and young people criticised Mr Fisher and the council for its handling of the matter.

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He said: “This is a complete shambles.

“Officers are saying the decision hasn’t been made while John Fisher who is supposed to be in charge is on the media saying it is definitely closing.

“Having just a month ago given an assurance on the record in cabinet that Holt Hall wasn’t closing its pretty clear he hasn’t got any grip of what’s going on.

“This is a crucial decision about a place that is close to our hearts and important to the families and heritage of our county.

“We want to see it protected and enhanced. Whatever decisions are made about its future have to be made properly and not in some shambolic way...[Mr Fisher] is making announcements about decisions that senior officers are saying are nowhere near being made.

“Holt Hall is our Hall.

“The hall, our young people and families and Norfolk deserve a lot better than this dreadful display of incompetence.”

Holt Hall: 70-years of school trips and more

In response to claims that he made the call that the Hall was closing too soon, Mr Fisher said the council was still in consultation phase.

He said: “We’re consulting with staff on end of the outdoor learning at Holt Hall.

“And the reason why we’re doing that is obviously because the engagement process and consultation which started in March.

“On the business side it’s lost money in the last three years, it’s not a viable situation to continue.

“If people think it’s misleading, where we’re at the moment is we have engaged with all the schools in Norfolk, and the response of the schools was not particularly good, and we have consulted with the stakeholders and the Friends and we have engaged, this is the process one has to go to.

“It’s up to Mr Smith-Clare what he wants to say.”

Future of much-loved outdoor centres thrown into doubt

In a statement, Chris Snudden, director for Learning and Inclusion, confirmed the council was consulting with staff and the final decision on the hall’s future had not been made.

Mr Snudden said: “We are currently consulting staff on a proposal to end our role as a provider of day and residential visits at Holt Hall and will be considering their views and ideas before a final decision is made about the service.

“We completely agree that outdoor learning is important for children and young people and part of our proposal is to look at how we can continue to provide support and advice to schools, as well as coordinating and growing provision across the whole county to support Norfolk schools to access a wider range of outdoor learning opportunities.”

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