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Elvaston Castle, just outside Derby, is a fantastic 19th century house set in 200 acres of woodlands, parkland and gardens. It’s open to the public and I’ve been going there since my eldest daughter was young.
Unfortunately, it’s under threat. Derbyshire County Council, who own it, are threatening to sell it to a private company to be made into a hotel with much of the grounds to be used as a golf course.
Naturally, as soon as I heard I signed the requisite petition.
However, speaking to a friend, who has also visited the grounds on many occasions, I was set thinking. He believes that selling it is the only way to ensure the house doesn’t crumble away and that DCC doesn’t just end up having to pay hand-over-fist. But surely that can’t be it? Surely there must be a way to save it for the public?
Well, a quick look on the internet proved there was. The Friends of Elvaston Castle are a group dedicated to saving the buildings and grounds for any such private ownership. And reading their site shows that things aren’t always what they seem. They have some grand, but sensible, plans hampered generally by DCC who, amongst other things, won’t release financial details. Yet one of the main reasons for DCC wanting to sell it is because of the costs (and, indeed, my friends main argument).
But let’s just stop there a second. Why should the fact that it costs money each year be a problem? Isn’t that what we pay our council tax for? Should everything pay for itself? Or as the Friends of Elvaston Castle put it…
This must raise the question as to why the Derbyshire County Council can no longer finance the annual maintenance costs of the Country Park when these costs should surely have been budgeted for when the authority annually sets its ratepayer’s council tax for the provision of Countryside Services?
They believe that a not-for-profit trust should take over ownership, ensuring that the house and grounds remain available to the public, yet doing what DCC hasn’t done – promote it! It gets 20% of the annual footfall that Alton Towers does, yet charges a small fee for parking and has nothing but a small cafe and gift shop on site. If DCC is losing money, it’s not trying very hard to prevent it. I guess the handsome income from selling to a private company is more appealing!
So, apologies to my friend, selling to a private company is NOT the best approach. Maybe if all other avenues have been exhausted then it could be a final route to take, but it’s quite obvious that this has not happened. But we mustn’t think that because a local council can’t support a local amenity, then this is the only solution – there are usually groups of people willing to take on such a challenge.
In the small village that I grew up, stands the last working windmill in Nottinghamshire. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve spent there. But today it stands desperately in need of help. For something like this, there probably isn’t a private option . In this case they are already run by a “Friends” group, but even they are struggling. Local fund-raising isn’t enough and a recent theft of metal from the building has left them even worse off. Consider the millions of wasted pounds every year from government and you wonder why this kind of thing is allowed to happen in the first place.
But I’ll leave the last words to The Friends…
Through our own research and enquiries, we believe that the Elvaston Castle Estate, run on sound business practices which have been proven successful by both trusts and local authorities in other areas, will not only protect vital public open space but also contribute to giving our citizens an improved society in which to live.