Closure of Outdoor Education Centres: Oxenwood to get four month reprieve
Papers published for Wiltshire Council's Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (June 12) reveal that the Council's two outdoor education centres - Oxenwood near Marlborough and Braeside in Devizes - will not after all close on August 31.
The Cabinet is being asked to approve a four month reprieve - until December 31. This is a significant - if so far partial - victory for the campaign led by Lucy Gomes and her petition, to keep them open.
If the Cabinet agrees, the centres will remain operational while a full 'market testing process' is completed to assess the parties that have interest expressed in continuing to run the two centres.
The papers state that four organisations - not identified by names - have come forward 'via an informal process'. A 'charitable service provider' is interested in continuing outdoor education courses at Oxenwood.
Three organisations - two private and one new charity - have declared their interest in taking over Braeside, which is the larger of the two centres, offering educational services in varying forms.
The papers include this statement: "Applying a formal market testing process has the benefit of responding positively to the Full Council resolution to use 'every best effort' to find an alternative to the Council operating the sites and will allow for proper due diligence and assessment of the proposals against open criteria."
However, it continues: "Cabinet should also be aware there is still the potential that no suitable operator will be available after due diligence and so closure on 31 December 2018 would then be inevitable."
And to underline that there is also a proposal before this cabinet meeting to approve 'disposal' - aka 'sale' - of the centres.
Papers for this cabinet decision state that Braeside "...was purchased for educational purposes. A conveyance to the council’s predecessor contains a covenant requiring that the consent of the Board of Education or the Ministry of Health or their successors be obtained for any use other than education."
Of Oxenwood it says: "The site is not suitable for a custom/self-build plot, due to the scale of the site and presence of the existing building.' But the sale plan - 1.1 acres in all - includes the land on the other side of the road. How this land was acquired by Wiltshire Council was not revealed in the conveyance documents released under a Freedom of Information request.
In attempting to reinforce their argument for closure and sale, the documents make the strange point that the annual income targets for the two centres in 2018-2019 will probably not be reached. First, that is hardly surprising since the centres have been under threat of imminent closure which must have diminished bookings, and secondly because even closure on December 31 would leave the target three months short of income for the financial year.
We are also told that Wiltshire Council's policy of selling off assets to support its expenditure has raised £70 million since 2009. Assets scheduled to be sold before April 2020 would raise another £30 million.
Let us hope that Marlborough's iconic St Peter's School building is not on that list.