Bid to force Holt Hall closure u-turn with demand for special council meeting

Holt Hall environmental and outdoor learning centre has been much-loved by families for generations

Opposition councillors have called for a special council meeting to try to reverse the decision to close Holt Hall. - Credit: Archant

A bid to save Holt Hall from closure has been launched - with a demand for a special council meeting to try to force a rethink over the controversial decision to shut it.

Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors have called for a special meeting to put pressure on the Conservative-controlled council to think again and to save Holt Hall.

The council's cabinet agreed on Monday to stop providing its outdoor learning services at the 75-acre site and to move towards selling the building.

Holt Hall Environmental & Outdoor Learning Centre. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

On Monday, Norfolk County Council voted to stop the outdoor learning services it runs from Holt Hall - and to make the building available for sale. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The council said it wanted to become an enabler, rather than a provider of outdoor learning.

It said the hall was running at a deficit, would cost £600,000 to maintain over the next decade and only 6.8pc of residential outdoor learning visits last year were run at Holt Hall.

But almost 6,000 people have signed a petition opposing closure, while the Friends of Holt Hall group is drawing up a business plan in the hope of getting it classed as an asset of community value.

Opposition councillors at County Hall say the county council's cabinet should think again - and have demanded a special meeting of the council to discuss it.

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group, said: "Norfolk has reacted strongly to the asset stripping of our young people’s future and the way the decision has been made. It has been contemptible.

"If a facility as valuable as this is creating a problem the way forward is to work with those who want to find a solution not rush to shut it down and flog it off, dismissing the views of all those who want to help."

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Whilst there were plans to call in the cabinet decision to the scrutiny committee that has been shelved, with opposition councillors instead calling for a full council meeting where they will table a motion asking cabinet to reconsider.

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat group leader at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat group leader at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway - Credit: Alex Broadway

Steffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "I have received more correspondence about Holt Hall than I have any other issue since I was elected.

"It’s right therefore that this decision is challenged by a meeting of full council.

"Whatever party we are in, we have a duty to speak up for our local residents. We want cabinet to think again. We’re showing here we are prepared to work across political divisions to save Holt Hall."

Labour and the Lib Dems  have signed up to a joint statement of intent to work across party lines to secure the hall's future in providing outdoor education for young people.

Tom Green, chairman of the Friends of Holt Hall, said: "We strongly agree with the proposal to reverse the Holt Hall closure decision.

"Our driving force has always been to act as enablers in support of Norfolk children getting quality learning experiences at Holt Hall.

"We have also acted as providers of support though our very successful bursary grant scheme.

"Our continuing ambition is  to work in whatever co-operative partnerships can be achieved to continue this work."

Nic Hopkins, A trustee of the friends of Holt Hall. Picture: Nic Hopkins

Nic Hopkins, A trustee of the friends of Holt Hall. Picture: Nic Hopkins - Credit: Archant

And Nic Hopkins, trustee and treasurer of Friends of Holt Hall, said: "We’d like to repeat our plea to Norfolk residents to write to or email their county councillors urging them to support the motion.

"Public opinion will be a powerful influence on individual councillors, especially if they say how we, the residents of Norfolk, value experiences with Holt Hall as students, teachers and parents.

"We’d like residents to explain to their county councillor that this is not sentimentality: it is about societal values and conviction that the case to continue at Holt Hall makes business sense in the bigger scheme of things.

“Friends of Holt Hall will continue the Save Holt Hall Campaign, but also invites the chance to continue in our constructive stakeholder engagement with council officers in the new work starting up on outdoor learning strategy for Norfolk.  

“We continue to believe that partnership options may well be viable and overcome many, if not all, of the budgetary pressures on the Holt Hall current operating model. These background discussions will still go forward.”

Council leader Andrew Proctor said: "The cabinet made its decision based on evidence, facts and proper process."

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