Council urged to reverse decision on Chesterfield’s Tapton House – after estate agents reveal land also up for sale

Campaigners calling for Tapton House to remain a community asset have been shocked to discover the size of the plot around the House being promoted for sale – with most of the gardens and car park also included.

Wednesday, 29th June 2022, 3:07 pm

Last month, Chesterfield Borough Council announced it would be looking for a private buyer for Tapton House. They have maintained the property for three years, but said they were becoming increasingly concerned by incidents of vandalism and arson nearby – and felt that finding a new tenant would help secure the long-term future of the site.

Photos on Rightmove – where the sale is being advertised – appear to show the boundaries of the land the council is willing to sell.

The proposed boundary covers much of the gardens running up to the edge of the golf course. There are various public accesses in this area of the park, which also allow for people to enter the Peace Gardens.

The council’s move to sell Tapton House has been met with fierce opposition.

The sale brochure also shows most of the top car park will be included.

Chesterfield Community Group said: “Residents of Chesterfield deserve some clarity and honesty, this is appalling. Just when we thought it was bad enough.”

Councillor Paul Holmes, leader of Chesterfield Liberal Democrats, added: “It looks like the part of the car park used for the general public, as well as a stretch of the gardens, would be sold. It would reduce access, and a buyer might try to negotiate for a larger chunk of the ground and gardens, which could be tempting if the council are keen to sell it.

“They said they would negotiate with any buyer as to what would or wouldn’t be included, but they haven’t sent anything to say they’d mapped out boundaries.”

A group of Chesterfield Liberal Democrat councillors opposed to the sale of Tapton House.

The Liberal Democrats have submitted a motion for a council meeting on July 20, in which they have called on the authority to immediately withdraw Tapton House from sale.

They will also urge the council to invite interested community groups to contribute ideas about future use and their possible involvement. They want detailed options and costings to be drawn up for the various potential uses, and have all councillors included in a public discussion as to which option to adopt.

Coun Holmes added: “Everybody has got lots of ideas about what Tapton House could be used for, but they do have to come up against the financial issue. It’s a listed building that’s over 200 years old – it’s not cheap to maintain and run, so they do have to bear in mind some practicalities.

“I would propose an extension of the innovation centre right next to Tapton House, which is successful and generates income for the council. That would generate commercial rents, which would pay for all or most of the annual maintenance costs.

The message from those at the protest picnic was clear.

“They’ve made strong business cases that there’s a market for the new office buildings on the Donut and at Waterside, so why not spend far less on adapting a listed building, keeping it in public ownership and maintaining access to that heritage?”

This would, according to Coun Holmes, allow the council to celebrate the history of Tapton House and the prominent figures who called it home.

“It would then still be in council hands, and they could then be a bit more imaginative about having some public access. You could have tours at weekends, or once a fortnight, led by local volunteers and community groups, as well some sort of museum displays in the downstairs or outbuildings about the Markham family and their role in Chesterfield.

“You’ve got some real pioneers there – Violet Markham was the first female mayor of Chesterfield and Charles led the slum clearances down at the ‘dog kennels’ area at the bottom of the market place when he was a councillor. These weren’t just big industrial employers, they were politically and socially involved in the town.

Coun Paul Holmes addresses the crowd at the protest picnic last weekend.

“They’ve never mentioned a word about this – there’s one blue plaque on the wall saying that George Stephenson lived here, but it’s such a wasted opportunity.”

Di Treece, from the Friends of Tapton House, helped to organise a protest picnic in the gardens at the weekend. She said that people were enraged by the council’s decision and called on them to consider different options.

“This is definitely not what Charles Markham intended, and I think it is entirely wrong for the council to even consider selling something off like that, especially when there are other options – everyone I’ve spoken to is furious. We’re considering holding another picnic or event every month to show the council how the people who elected them feel about it.

“One of the arguments from the council is that the house was never accessible to the general public anyway, which is right – but it doesn’t need to be like that.

“There are rooms that people could rent for their businesses, for conferences and parties, things like that. You could have a tea room downstairs and display some of the museum pieces associated with the Markham’s and George Stephenson, and some of the history of the school too.

“There’s a lot of potential there, and the house could become accessible for anyone and be a real heritage attraction. If the council could just put some money into it to get it going, I’m sure they’d get a steady income – it just needs someone with some creativity to get it up and running.”

Community groups have called on the council not to sell the property.

Philip Riden, chairman of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society, said that his organisation supports the council’s move to sell the property.

“In our view, the best chance of preserving the mansion is to sell it on a long lease to someone interested in restoring it as a private residence, as it was for most of the time between 1794 and 1925.

“The Tapton Estate was not ‘left to the people of Chesterfield’ – it was given to the then Chesterfield Corporation accompanied by an expression of wishes by the donor, Charles Paxton Markham, that it be used in some way for the benefit of the people of town. Most of it has been since – notably the golf course and the public park – but the mansion has never been ‘open to the public’

“We would be quite happy to see the school buildings of 1931 demolished, to make the mansion more manageable. They are only listed because they are physically attached to a listed building and would not otherwise merit listing.”

Philip added that any plans for Tapton House would need to be financially self-sufficient – which he said made many of the ideas for the building unfeasible.

“The fundamental and, in our view, fatal flaw with all the proposals emanating from ‘community groups’ is that, even if the National Lottery funded capital works, they would not provide revenue funding. None of the schemes suggested offer any way of raising the money required, since none of them would be self-supporting.

“To be blunt, the Friends of Tapton House campaign is potentially an obstacle to the disposal of the mansion in a way that will guarantee its future, and structural and decorative integrity. It is that which the Civic Society is most concerned about.”

A Chesterfield Borough Council Spokesperson said: “Tapton House and the surrounding area is a key heritage site, and the council is committed to finding a long-term solution that will safeguard its future.

“There appears to be a degree of misleading information circulating around this issue and we want to reassure residents that the council, just like the people of Chesterfield, wants the best outcome for Tapton House. This is why we’re keen to attract a new owner or tenant who has the resources to make the substantial investment needed to fully restore and maintain the building to a high standard.

“Under the terms of any sale or rental agreement, there will be a small private outdoor area for the exclusive use of the new owner or tenant, but the vast majority of the parkland will still be available for residents to use for recreational purposes.

“As stated in the property marketing brochure, the plan/boundary which is shown is simply indicative and not set in stone. Under the terms of any sale or rental agreement, there will be a small private outdoor area for the exclusive use of the new owner or tenant, but the vast majority of the parkland will still be available for residents to use for recreational purposes.

“The car park has never been public – it was let to Chesterfield College and therefore not open to the public. The council’s agents have undertaken a number of viewings with companies and private individuals. A range of uses will be considered, subject to appropriate consents being in place, however, our ‘red line’ in relation to any proposal that comes forward is that the interested party must set out how the long-term future of this historic building will be safeguarded.

“Any final decision on the sale of Tapton House will be taken by the council’s Cabinet.”

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Decision to sell off Chesterfield's Tapton House under fire
Tapton House has been home to some of Chesterfield’s most important figures - including George Stephenson and the Markham family.
The council announced it would be looking to sell Tapton House last month.