Future of Cuffley Camp uncertain as council support is withdrawn

Cuffley Camp. Picture: Danny Loo

Cuffley Camp. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

The future of a long-standing outdoor activities centre is uncertain after Herts County Council (HCC) withdrew its support today.

Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre, near Potters Bar, has been visited by groups of children from across Herts on school trips since the end of the Second World War – they were able to take part in activities including archery, fire building, climbing, mountain biking, and orienteering, as well as studying the woodland and walking.

Until now HCC has held the property on a series of leases – it was run by Hertfordshire Children’s Services, owned by the Hatfield House Estate and managed by the estate’s company, Gascoyne Holdings Limited.

HCC was obliged to invest money every five years for the remaining 14 years of the current lease. In the past it has not kept this agreement and now owes £880,000 in maintenance investments.

Instead of keeping the site open, HCC has decided to withdraw from Cuffley. The centre needs £1.8million to continue running competitively against other rival camps, including Hudnall Park Outdoor Centre, Herts Young Mariners Base, and at least 10 others within a 30-mile radius.

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

HCC has also promised to work with the landlord to try and keep the site open as an outdoor education centre, but stressed that because it is no longer under council control that cannot be guaranteed.

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This decision was made at a cabinet meeting today (November 13) despite a nearly 10,000 strong petition to keep it open.

County councillor Colette Wyatt-Lowe said there are other outdoor centres for youngsters in Herts, adding: “I am greatly reassured by the addendem, which highlights how many first-class facilities we have in Hertfordshire and immediately around.”

She said withdrawing from the lease was “probably the best decision”.

Cllr Teresa Heritage agreed and said: “There are a lot of modern, up-to-date, well-kept education centres within reach of Hertfordshire schools and the public. While I appreciate the sentimental affiliation with Cuffley Camp, as families for generations have been using the centre for many years, we need to be realistic and see if we can use the centre competitively within the market.”

After the meeting, Herts County Council Deputy Leader, David Williams, said: “We understand and share residents’ concern about the future of this much loved outdoor camping centre.

“At Cabinet today, it was agreed that following a review of Cuffley Camp’s sustainability as a self-financing facility operated by the County Council, we cannot maintain the levels of investment required to bring the camp up to the standards needed to compete with alternative providers and offer a compelling service for the future. Such investment would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money. It was therefore agreed this afternoon that the County Council will negotiate with the landlord to withdraw from its lease at Cuffley Camp.

“We understand that the landlord’s intention is to continue to operate Cuffley Camp as an outdoor education centre with an alternative provider. We support this and will continue discussions with the landlord and the promotion of the facility to our schools across Hertfordshire.”

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