Fight to save Wicken House is over

PUBLISHED: 17:49 18 March 2008 | UPDATED: 21:24 31 May 2010

Wicken House

Wicken House

THE fight to save Wicken House is over. In the next few days, the winning bidder for the residential study centre will be announced and its sale will be completed. The sale of the 19th century rectory comes eight months after it was originally announced t

THE fight to save Wicken House is over. In the next few days, the winning bidder for the residential study centre will be announced and its sale will be completed.

The sale of the 19th century rectory comes eight months after it was originally announced that Essex County Council (ECC), which has owned the house for 60 years, would sell the property to raise money to improve its other outdoor study centres.

Cllr Ray Gooding, deputy to Cllr Tracey Chapman who oversaw the decision to sell Wicken House, said that although the final decision was yet to be made, he expected the sale to generate in excess of £1.5million.

He said: "We are not accepting any more bids for Wicken House and have already decided on a preferred bidder, whose bid we are evaluating.

"It looks like the sale will be pretty helpful to the local community, as they stand to receive a large sum of money from it to put towards facilities. From what I understand, the company likely to make the purchase is happy to put in some additional funds to be given to the community too."

Cllr Gooding said that it was council policy to give approximately 20 per cent of the money generated from a sale such as Wicken House back into its community. While this would mean about £300,000 would be received by the Wicken Bonhunt community, a cap of £80,000 means that it will likely receive closer to five per cent of the money from the sale.

Cllr Gooding said he would be working closely with Wicken Bonhunt representatives to establish the best way to spend the money.

The remainder of the money generated will be used to improve the other outdoor learning centres in Essex - venues at Danbury and Bradwell will both be able to accommodate more children.

And Cllr Gooding said money that would have been spent bringing Wicken House up to Disability Discrimination Act compliance was being used to help fund a climbing barn in Harlow.

Campaign group Save Wicken House has been vehemently opposed to the centre's closure from the offset and has accused the county council of failing in its duties by selling the property.

After numerous threats, the group has now made a formal complaint about ECC to the Local Government Ombudsman.

It believes that the council is guilty of maladministration over its decision to close Wicken House.

Save Wicken House believes the decision was "seriously flawed" and that the council failed to consult adequately prior to its announcement that the centre would be closed.

Tim Young, of Save Wicken House, said: "There is still time for the council to halt the sale process until the Ombudsman has reached its verdict. We urge the county council to do so, and to start thinking about alternatives so that this wonderful facility can continue to provide its excellent services to the wide range of schools and other organisations such as theatre and music groups and the local parish council who use it."

However, Cllr Gooding said that the decision was irreversible and that he hoped this would draw a line under the episode.

All nine members of staff, full and part-time, at the centre have opted for redundancy payments.

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