Conservative incompetence threatens future of Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre

  • Well-used educational facility facing closure
  • Landlord running out of patience with County Council as leaseholder
  • Bill of nearly £900,000 for dilapidations and failure to comply with lease terms

At its meeting on 2 November, Hertfordshire County Council’s Children’s Services Cabinet Panel were told about the Conservative administration’s intention to close the Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre.

Cuffley Camp is an outdoor centre near Northaw, South of Potters Bar, situated in a 90 acre site of ancient woodland, Cuffley Great Wood, owned by Hatfield House Estates and managed through their company Gascoyne Holding Limited (GHL).

The outdoor centre is run by Hertfordshire County Council, which has held it by a series of leases dating back to World War II, with the current lease running for 25 years from 2007. Under the lease, HCC is responsible for maintaining the site in good repair and investing a small sum each year to improve the facilities.

Anthony Rowlands (Liberal Democrat County Councillor for St Albans East) said: “I was contacted by parents concerned that Cuffley Camp was threatened with closure.  They are worried that a fantastic educational facility is about to be lost. The report presented to the Panel confirmed these fears.

“The oversight of this facility by successive Conservative administrations has been scandalously negligent. Under the lease signed in 2007, the Council should have been investing modest sums each year. Nothing has been spent. Unsurprisingly, the Panel was told that the landlord is now running out of patience with the Council.  We were told that the bill for dilapidations and failure to comply with the lease would be nearly £900,000.

“To make matters worse, the Panel was presented with a report which said nothing about the educational value of the facility. For many children visiting the Camp, their stay there is one of the most memorable and valuable primary years experiences. Learning about nature and exploring the countryside now more than ever is a crucial component of a rounded education.

“The remarkable numbers still using the Camp, despite its neglected state, were only revealed under questioning. The administration admitted that they had no clear idea how the 8,000 pupils who use Cuffley every year would be able to access similar facilities. Our efforts to have the decision deferred to allow for consultation with users and research into alternative management structures was voted down by the Conservatives. This is local government at its worst.”

Mark Watkin (Councillor for Nascot Park and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Children’s Services) added: “At a time when the Council is confronted by acute funding difficulties, it is bewildering that the Children’s Services budget is now going to have to suffer a £900,000 hit to draw a line under this catalogue of incompetence. This will be at the expense of desperately needed funding for child protection. To add to this litany of woe, the Big Lottery Fund, which stumped up £700,000 in 2007 for a new hall at the centre, will also be looking to recoup some of its grant if Cuffley closes.”

Barbara Gibson (Councillor for Haldens and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Public Health and Community Safety) said: “As a relatively new member of the Council, I am appalled by what I saw at the Panel. This proposal was rushed through as if it were a sudden crisis, a fire that must immediately be put out, when in fact it has been smouldering for at least a decade. In my view, it reveals a pattern of neglect and lack of oversight and it worries me that there may be many other areas of neglect.”