Historic Stevenage farmhouse to be commercial site after community bids fail

Fairlands Farmhouse in Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage. Picture: Nick Gill

Fairlands Farmhouse in Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage. Picture: Nick Gill - Credit: Archant

The historic Fairlands Farmhouse in Stevenage is set to become a commercial property after attempts to retain the 17th-century building for community use were rejected by the local authority.

Painting by George Oldfield of the farmhouse, 1804.

Painting by George Oldfield of the farmhouse, 1804. - Credit: Archant

The Grade II-listed farmhouse in Fairlands Valley Park has been empty since November 2016, after long-term tenants Digswell Arts Trust moved out because the building had fallen into such a bad state of disrepair.

Since then it has been broken into and vandalised, and a Condition Survey Report carried out last year identified costs of about £630,000 to restore the building to a reasonable standard.

Owners Stevenage Borough Council marketed the farmhouse for sale for pub/restaurant use in 2008 and 2011, but it didn’t sell.

In September last year, the council listed the property as an Asset of Community Value following a nomination from Stevenage World Forum, which halted negotiations with a pub/restaurant operator interested in purchasing the freehold.

The farm barns and farmhouse in 1972.

The farm barns and farmhouse in 1972. - Credit: Archant

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As an ACV, it gave community groups six months to come up with viable business plans for the building’s use.

Two bids were submitted – one to use the farmhouse as a centre for healthy living and the other to re-establish a farm – but both proposals have now been rejected by the council’s executive.

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The council said: “The proposed use in both bids does not adequately address evidenced community demands.

“Neither bid provided a robust financial strategy and both are uncertain regarding the outcome of securing necessary funding.”

Both bidders also said they would prefer a long lease, but the council is keen to sell the freehold to remove any liability for the building and transfer its restoration to a third party.

Chris Oak, a Stevenage resident for 22 years, was part of the group which put forward the proposal to develop a healthy living centre.

He said: “We were disappointed there wasn’t an option for us to present our proposal in person and discuss it.

“Our preference was to have a long lease, but we were happy to consider purchasing the freehold.

“While there were failings in our proposal, we think there was flexibility to alter these failings.”

Chris said the group is considering lodging an appeal and they are “still hopeful”.

The council is resuming its negotiations to sell the farmhouse to a pub/restaurant operator and, should these fail, the property will be re-marketed.

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