Recent coverage about Norfolk County Council’s “disposal of Holt Hall” in the local media has shocked and saddened us all. By way of reminder, the key headlines are that:
- NCC have accepted a proposal by an unnamed, mystery buyer for their personal use as a private home for a sum substantially above the next offer in the final round of bidding. It has been suggested to us that much restoration money will be available for the local community for an initial expensive restoration but it is not clear if the site will be also be developed.
- This offer includes a £1m “donation” for NCC to use for the benefit of disadvantaged Norfolk Children, but there is no information on how or on what or in what timeframe this would be used.
- The council has not published the full lifetime evaluation of the proposals it received, assessed against their stated criteria of public benefit, sustainability and price. This likely to be in excess of any one off restoration spend.
- NCC state that best value rules mean they have to accept this offer and “donation” as it is £2m+ more than the next bid. They have expressed no interest in the alternative option of seeking Secretary of State permission to accept an alternative offer on the basis of lifetime, sustainable public benefit in environmental and other outdoor learning for Norfolk Children.
- A proposal to review the decision in the Council’s Scrutiny Committee has been blocked by the council official who is known as the “Monitoring Officer”.
On March 30th, one of the Friends of Holt Hall submitted a full and detailed Freedom of Information Enquiry to the Council about the deal including the identity of the mystery buyer, details of evaluations, the budget to which the “donation” will be allocated, and correspondence about the various proposals received since July 2021 as well as the sources of the purchaser’s funds.
Whilst this information is of great public interest, we have not yet heard from the Council on this request. There will no doubt be reluctance to release information at the first attempt. We will keep our supporters informed.
Of course this mystery private deal may unravel: there has been no recent information about the contractual stages. FOHH will continue to track developments.
We are keen to acknowledge the tremendous public support in words and in cash in our attempt to secure a future for Holt Hall. In the event, as appears likely, that this private deal is finalised, FOHH is considering options to help Norfolk schools and their students get some benefits of environmental outdoor learning from the resources we have.