Negotiations are progressing which could see the Grade 1 Listed Wentworth Castle Gardens in Barnsley re-opened under a new lease agreement, but details of the proposals are being closely guarded at present.
The gardens and Stainborough Park closed last Spring because the trust running the historic visitor attraction ran out of cash.
Since then Barnsley Council, the Wentworth Castle Garden Trust and Northern College, which is based at the stately home within the gardens, have been working to find a new solution to getting the gardens and parkland up and running again.
Details of the current situation are scant, but Barnsley Council has now confirmed it is pursuing the “preferred option”, for the site, indicating there has been more than one potential solution available.
That will involve drawing up new leases and partnership arrangements, but no details of which body may lease the site, or become involved in a partnership have been released at this stage.
Responsibility for agreeing those heads of terms has been delegated to two of the council’s executive directors and Coun Roy Miller, the Cabinet spokesman for Place.
They must work to a stipulation that the agreements they reach must fall within the financial criteria set out in a report now agreed by the council’s ruling Cabinet.
That was discussed in private, meaning the report and any discussion about it are not available to the public.
Officially, the council’s response is to confirm: “Since the closure of Wentworth Castle Gardens last year, we’ve been meeting with various partners to secure its future. Wentworth Castle Gardens Trust, Barnsley Council and Northern College have all be working hard to find a way to reopen the site. We are still working together to achieve this, and hope that visitors and the local community alike can enjoy the gardens once again.”
A source close to the project has suggested that public access to the gardens could resume in late 2018 and the current timescale appears to have extended longer than the trust anticipated when the gardens were closed in the Spring of last year.
A team of three professional gardeners were kept on at that point, but only until last October, with spokesman John Edwards saying at the time there was an “expectation that a sustainable future an be found.”
It is unclear how the gardens have been maintained since last Winter, though it appeared likely the volunteers who assisted professional staff would continue to tend them.
The gardens have had a chequered history and despite the magnificent design, including a castle folly, have been largely out of bounds to the public.
That changed after the gardens and a crumbling but impressive Victorian conservatory featured on BBC2’s Restoration programme.
Eventually funding to restore the building at a cost of almost £4m was secured, but that work was completed only in 2014, three years before the closure.
Overall, around £20m has been invested in the site, which has involved work on the gardens but also restoring more than 20 buildings, including the Rotunda, a large round building in the parkland which had virtually collapsed and been engulfed by encroaching woodland.
The project has been supported by Heritage Lottery Funding, but according to the trust’s website, it is hoped a new agreement to manage the gardens means there will be no attempt to claw back any of that money.