Petition of 2,500 people against sale of Tapton House as 17 bids revealed
Following the submission of the petition by Friends of Tapton House (FoTH) last night (October 19), Chesterfield Borough Council members clashed over what to do with the Grade II listed building.
Deputy leader Councillor Amanda Serjeant revealed FoTH’s bid had been one of 17 that had been received for the house covering a multitude of potential business and residential uses, including transforming it back into a single residential dwelling.
She said the authority would ‘thoroughly evaluate’ each bid accordingly.
“Chesterfield Borough Council has no plans to dispose of the freehold and would covenant any sale on a long leasehold basis to ensure appropriate protection remained in place with regards to future use of Tapton House,” Coun Serjeant commented, adding that while the authority could conceive of permitting a small area of land for private use, it had no plans to ‘restrict or remove public access to Tapton Park or Tapton Golf Course’.
Representing FoTH, Martin Bruno reminded members that when taking ownership of the estate in 1926, the council’s predecessor Chesterfield Corporation signed an agreement with the Markham family, agreeing to keep the house in good repair ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of the borough of Chesterfield’.
“I think it would be an absolute travesty if Tapton House is sold for a short term profit and see it fall into the wrong hands,” he said.
“Short term thinking has a long term impact.”
Mr Bruno continued: “Chesterfield has limited historic buildings and we should treasure the ones that we have.
“Not everyone wants new shiny buildings.”
Mr Bruno described the FoTH bid for the property as ‘dynamic, inclusive and achievable’, with ideas including a cafe, museum and forest school.
He implored members to ‘put community before cash’ in deciding the future of the asset.
However the increased cost of maintaining the facility is of great concern to the authority, and the deputy leader explained how this, along with increased incidents of vandalism, had driven the decision to market the property on a long-term lease of 999 years, after its immediate for a short-term tenant proved unsuccessful.
She said suggestion had been made to convert it into offices and use it as an annex of the nearby Tapton Innovation Centre, but this was not seen as a ‘viable business option’.
“Conservatively, we estimate it would cost Chestefield Borough Council £1m to convert Tapton House into serviced office accommodation and, even assuming the accommodation was 90 per cent let, the council’s best estimate points to a net annual operating loss of £50k per year,” Coun Serjeant explained.
“As it stands, Chesterfield Borough Council, if it took this option, would also have to borrow this capital to support the cost of conversion and refurbishment, which would add a further £75k year to the net annual operating loss.”
She stated it had been a misconception that Chesterfield Corporation had been ‘given’ Tapton House in 1926, when it had actually bought the estate for £7k, the equivalent of £5million today.
She added that the agreement between the authority and Charles Paxton Markham had been a ‘personal covenant’ that had ceased upon the latter’s passing.
However Councillor Paul Holmes claimed while the authority had technically paid £7k, the estate had actually been valued at £30k, the modern day equivalent of £25-£30m.
“So a vast bulk of the estate including the building was given to the council,” he said.
Coun Holmes commented that a lease of 999 years was ‘as good as selling it for 1,000 years’ and questioned why more hadn’t been done when Chesterfield College had vacated the property four years ago to explore the different options for the premises.
He appealed to leaders to stop the marketing process and ‘think again’.
Deputy mayor Councillor Mick Brady commented that while he would love to see all heritage buildings in the care of the council it was not possible, flatly stating that any business plan for Tapton House needed to ‘stack up’ financially, in the face of more than a decade of relentless funding cuts to local authorities.
“What we as councillors cannot afford to do is allow a scheme to go ahead that doesn’t survive six months, two years, three years and you then end up with you, the ratepayers, having to pick up what may be a very significant amount of money that we surely don’t have,” he concluded.
Councillor Ed Fordham championed the historical significance of the house as at different times being the residence of three influential families in Chesterfield’s heritage – The Wilkinsons, the Stephensons and the Markhams.
“If there was a single building in the entire town, in the entire borough, that replicates our story it would be Tapton House,” he commented.
A majority of 24 out of the 39 members who voted were in favour of noting the receipt of the petition while proceeding with marketing the property, agreeing that the decision over the ‘potential sale or otherwise’ would ultimately lie with cabinet.