WARA Objections to RGM Proposals

Re: Application EPF/3028/15

Gunpowder Mill Powdermill Lane/Access off Beaulieu Drive Waltham Abbey Essex EN9 1JY 

WARA objects to the proposal on the basis that the development will be detrimental to our Town.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills (RGM) apart from the Abbey after which our town is named and Epping Forest after which our District Council is named it is the only legitimate Visitor Attraction in the district. This much loved facility will be lost to the general public if the proposal is approved.

The site was handed to the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills Charitable Trust Foundation Ltd (No 1062985) and was set up by the MOD in order to preserve, manage research and display for the benefit of the general public at large all the historical and archaeological heritage that may exist in all that land at Waltham Abbey, Essex. A permanent Endowment Fund of £5m was provided for future income to support development and management of the Waltham Abbey site. A further unrestricted fund of £1.85m was provided to supplement grants from the National Heritage Lottery fund to develop the site in order to house, conserve and display the collections of the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills. Funds are transferred when necessary to the operating company The Royal Gunpowder Mills Company Ltd (The Visitor Attraction and Operating Company) also a charity (no1062968) in order to carry out the works, operate and manage facilities.

It was stated at the time of inception by Mr Dave Prince of Prince Associates who were employed in 1997 to evaluate and accommodate the ownership transfer of the site, that it would take at least 20 years for the project to become established and financially viable. The site finally became operational and open to the public in 2000.

Ambitions failed to live up-to expectations and consequently opening times were scaled back and staff reduced significantly after the first year of operations (though in our opinion it was very poorly promoted and lacked any significant publicity). The site manages to survive and exist today through the dedication and support of unpaid volunteers who maintain and assist in operating the site.

Consequently, through poor and disinterested leadership emanating from the Foundation Trust and a lack of support by them for the O.C. the site has been struggling ever since. We are informed some trustees have never visited the site and others only rarely.

Few live locally, and none appear to understand the value of the site to the local community.

The Foundation Trust stated publicly at the meeting held at Waltham Abbey Town Hall that they have not looked at alternative solutions or sought any other partners to assist in keeping the Visitor Attraction open to the public as their charter requires.

What the proposal allocates to the Visitor Attraction and O.C. is the island site that consists of the gift-shop/reception and the theatre site. A separate second section of the site that is a SSSI (site of special scientific interest), an S.A.M (scheduled ancient monument) and a section of badly contaminated land with no means of access. This area has no basic infrastructure such as mains water, sewage connection or power on the site. There is no financial provision made by the Foundation or PGL to install any of these or provide any buildings to house the collections as there are none existing on this land.

For the protection of the children, the PGL site must be fenced and made secure from the general public and thereby no longer available to the public at large, only the few children attending the PGL Children’s Holiday resort, will have that opportunity.

Para believes that these proposals if approved, mean that the Visitor Attraction cannot possibly survive in any relevant meaningful way. The R.G.M will then no longer meet the criteria laid down in the Charter set up by the M.O.D when ownership was transferred.

If the council is of a mind to allow this development, we believe that a sizeable contribution should be made by PGL in order to set up collection accommodation on the site at an alternative location. We have seen a plan that could be adopted for this purpose that we can make a copy available if requested.

WARA ask the Planning Officer to consider these facts as well as any other legitimate constraints and recommend refusal on this ground as well as any other he may identify.

The Foundation Trust must demonstrate they have fully explored all alternative options to keep the site open to the general public as required in the Charter, before consideration is given to the current proposal that will inevitably force the Visitor Attraction to close.

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