Cuffley Camp: Thousands sign petition to save outdoor centre used by St Albans schools

Cuffley Camp. Picture: Danny Loo

Cuffley Camp. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

A St Albans mum is among thousands of people who have rushed to prevent the closure of Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre.

The education centre, near Potters Bar, is frequently visited by youngsters from the St Albans district.

The centre was established in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and the county council has held the property on a series of leases since then.

The current lease is for 25 years from 2007 and, thus, has just over 14 years left to run.

The county council is now deciding whether to invest £1.8million and continue running the camp or to close the site and look to make similar provision at Hudnall Park.

The need for a decision comes after HCC broke the conditions of its lease by not maintaining the site to an acceptable standard with year-on-year investment.

The camp is run by Hertfordshire Children’s Services but is owned by the Hatfield House Estate and managed by the estate’s company, Gascoyne Holdings Limited (GHL).

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Under the lease, the county council was covenanted to invest money every five years and now owes £880,000 in payments.

There is also concern over the condition of asbestos on the caretaker’s cottage and bike store.

St Albans resident Fiona McAndrew, whose son has been twice to the camp, thinks Herts County Council (HCC) should continue the centre.

She said: “It’s a valuable resource for schools. They do orienteering, assault courses, and problem solving and teamwork. They aren’t just running around, there is an educational point to what they doing.

“And the children really enjoyed it. The fact my son went twice shows the school thinks it’s a really good resource.

“I just think it’s a shame that sort of thing could be closed.”

A petition against the camp’s closure currently has over 8,500 signatures.

St Albans councillor Anthony Rowlands said: “The educational value of the centre is enormous, as pupils can go and learn about nature away from the hurly-burly.”

Cllr Rowlands claims in the last seven years Cuffley Camp has attracted around 8,000 visitors each year, 75 per cent of whom are primary school children.

Thanks to the efforts of the staff, the camp has a deficit of just £3,000.

But, Cllr Rowlands said: “Over the last decade the county council have neglected to maintain the facility and it has reached a stage where facilities are in a poor state.

“It’s a catalogue of mismanagement.”

He criticised the recommendations of a report to HCC’s cabinet that the cost of closing Cuffley should come from the Children’s Services department.

“Children’s services should not be suffering because of the total incompetence of County Hall.”

HCC insist no decision has yet been made on Cuffley Camp. The issue will go before Cabinet next week.

A spokesperson said: “No decision has been made about the future of Cuffley Camp yet.

“Herts County Council has an obligation to make the best use of taxpayers’ money and to ensure any facilities we provide for children in the county are fit for purpose.

“We are therefore in the process of considering the future of the Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre.”