Nidderdale's Bewerley Park gets £400,000 business plan but council warns cash support won't be 'open-ended cheque'
A £400,000 business plan to look into the future of Bewerley Park Centre in Nidderdale has been agreed by county councillors ahead of a potential multi-million pound redevelopment.
However, there are warnings that the cash support won't be an "open-ended cheque" and that the financially-struggling school trip site must become self-sustainable if it is to survive.
It comes after the North Yorkshire County Council-owned site, which has seen generations of schoolchildren take part in trips for over 80 years, was subject to a review launched earlier this year which sparked concerns that it could close permanently.
Speaking at a meeting on Tuesday, councillor Gareth Dadd, the county council's finance boss and deputy leader, said while the business plan showed that there are no plans to do this, it did not mean the centre's future would be a certain one.
He said: “This is not, and I repeat not, the saving of the outdoor education service. I don’t want anybody to be under the illusion that this is a free-for-all and an open-ended cheque.
“It’s a brave move by this authority. It’s not a statutory service and many authorities have actually closed their facilities.”
The county council had previously warned Bewerley Park could become unviable after it closed in March 2020 and was forecast to lose around £1.6m due to the cancellations of school trips during the Covid pandemic.
But talks of mothballing the centre were strongly opposed by pupils, teachers and former staff who voiced their happy memories of visits to the site as part of the review.
There was also strong support for the East Barnby outdoor education centre near Whitby which will form part of the business plan and could be in line for some minor improvements.
Plans to redevelop Bewerley Park, which is made up of 31 mainly wooden buildings constructed in 1940s and 1950s, could include new accommodation blocks, as well as a central facilities hub with a kitchen and dining area, teaching spaces, offices and storage.
The upgrades would only be agreed on a condition that the county council’s outdoor education service can demonstrate it can raise significantly more than the £2.2m it currently generates annually.
Speaking at Tuesday's meeting, councillor Patrick Mulligan, executive member for education and skills at the county council, said: "A number of the buildings on both sites are dilapidated.
"They are way beyond their shelf life and essentially many are no longer fit for purpose and a large investment would be required to replace them.
"We have learned a lot about the service and potential opportunities - and I am very hopeful that we are going to create a first rate service that will be very attractive.
"But we are not just going to throw money at this - it will have to pay its own way."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter