Community groups can bid for Stevenage’s Fairlands Farmhouse after sale to pub/restaurant halts

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

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

Community groups have the chance to bid to buy a town’s historic landmark after negotiations to sell it to a private business failed to be completed.

Fairlands Farmhouse in Stevenage's Fairlands Valley Park has been derelict since early 2017, when Digswell Arts Trust left, and has been targeted by vandals and is dilapidated, with owners Stevenage Borough Council estimating a cost of more than £600,000 to bring it back into use.

In September 2017, the building was listed as an Asset of Community Value following a nomination from Stevenage World Forum, which halted the council's negotiations with a pub/restaurant operator interested in purchasing the freehold.

As an ACV, an expression of interest gave community groups six months to develop business plans for the Grade II-listed building's use, during which time a private sale was forbidden.

Two bids were submitted - one to use the 17th century farmhouse as a centre for healthy living and the other to re-establish a farm - but both proposals were rejected by the counci for "commerical and financial reasons".

This meant the council had until the end of March this year to sell the site before community groups could again express interest.

The council says negotiations were at an advanced stage with a pub/restaurant operator when time ran out.

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One expression of interest has since been made, giving community groups until October 2 to submit bids.

The sole expression of interest came from David Martin, who was behind the failed bid to re-establish a farm. He said: "We are doing it not to prevent a sale, but to ensure we are involved if there is a sale. We want to ensure the heritage is preserved.

"The farmhouse is a millstone around the neck of the council."

Councillor Joan Lloyd, executive member for resources, said: "The council has been working on a proposal to bring Fairlands Farmhouse back into use, to secure investment into a historic building and add vibrancy to this part of the park.

"We opened discussions with one of the UK's leading independent and family pub/restaurant businesses in autumn last year and these negotiations have reached an advanced stage.

"The farmhouse is listed as an ACV, reflecting the community interest in this site. Under legal rules, proposals from community groups can be submitted by October 2 for consideration."