Elvaston Castle Estate, situated approximately 6.5 km south-east of Derby City Centre, was bought by Derbyshire County Council (DCC) in 1968 from an aggregates consortium. Elvaston was the first Country Park to open in the UK. It ran successfully as a Country Park and Museum for more than three decades. However, during the 1990s, in the context of financial and political pressures on local authorities across the country, DCC had to acknowledge a dilemma: having continued to make financial investment in Elvaston, developing it as a very popular local attraction over many years, the situation was becoming increasingly untenable. Although there was a continued financial commitment, it was recognised that the Castle, Estate buildings and structures, and gardens required considerably increased resources.
Financial sustainability will be fundamental to the delivery of the vision
Between 2002 and 2004, DCC commissioned two conservation plans. One for Elvaston Castle and associated buildings and one for the historic Estate. These commissions were grant assisted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).
Following the completion of the conservation plans, DCC jointly funded with Historic England (HE) the Essential Repairs Report and the Strategic Options Appraisal. The Essential Repairs Report (2011) set out all the repairs that were required on the Elvaston Estate to stem the decline of the Registered Park and Garden and the listed buildings and other garden structures that are in the ownership of DCC. The Strategic Options Appraisal (2013) used the costs identified by the Essential Repairs Report to investigate and test various use and development options and advised on various opportunities that might be considered. It outlined a robust analysis of the development options for the Estate to inform and identify optimum viable uses that were compatible with the historic significance of the site. It also, through consultation with HE, South Derbyshire District Council and DCC, identified a number of potential ‘enabling development’ sites (see footnote * Elements).
Both of these documents are available on www.futureelvaston.co.uk.
Following these studies, it became apparent to DCC that a new approach to Elvaston was required. DCC secured the assistance of the National Trust (NT) and working in partnership developed an ambitious 10 year vision, which formed the basis of the Masterplan.
Key to the Masterplan are six ‘guiding principles’. These principles will direct all future management decisions, whoever is responsible for Elvaston Castle and Estate:
- Freehold of the Estate will be retained by Derbyshire County Council;
- A competent single management body will control the overall governance of the Estate with the balance of conservation, heritage and access at its core;
- Financial sustainability will be fundamental to the delivery of the vision, facilitated by a business model that provides on-going reinvestment in the long term stewardship of the Estate without eroding its significance;
- The historic, landscape and biodiversity significance will be protected, conserved and, where sustainable, enhanced;
- Public access to the gardens, parkland and house will be provided and maintained; the parkland at least will be free at the point of entry on foot. The stories and rich heritage will be understood, shared and celebrated;
- People, community involvement and partnership working will be at the heart of all activities.
DCC, working collaboratively with the NT, produced a costed capital implementation plan for the total regeneration of the Estate, instigated a long-term business plan and funding strategy for achieving this and, crucially, proposed a governance structure and identified coalition partners to enact the vision. To address the final aim, the Elvaston Development Board, an embryonic ‘shadow’ trust body, was created in 2015; this later developed into the Elvaston Castle & Gardens Trust (ECGT).
The work with the NT culminated in the development of a first-round NLHF bid for a project to repair and regenerate the Castle and surrounding ‘core’ buildings. Also included in the bid were a range of initiatives to improve the visitor welcome, provide greater access to the Castle and an enhanced catering offer, tell the story of Elvaston, and improve activity, education and volunteering opportunities for the community. Unfortunately the bid was unsuccessful.
The NLHF indicated that it would be keen to work with DCC in strengthening a future bid. The NLHF expressed a wish to understand more about plans for future phases to help realise the overall vision for the Estate.
DCC is now working in partnership with ECGT with the ambition of handing the running of the Estate to the Trust as the ‘competent single management body’. This Masterplan represents the joint ambition of ECGT and DCC for Elvaston.
The Masterplan aims to consolidate the guiding principles of the vision into a set of clear, practical development proposals with a clear phasing strategy. It seeks to identify which projects are seen as high priority. It also sets out where new leisure activities, new retail and business offers and improved interpretation, education and catering facilities will be provided. In all cases the potential benefits will be balanced with the sensitivities of the Estate’s historic buildings, gardens and wider landscape.
Derbyshire County Council and the Elvaston Castle and Gardens Trust are grateful to all individuals and organisations that contributed to the development of the Masterplan and took part in the consultation process that helped to inform its content.
We believe this ambitious plan will deliver a vibrant and sustainable visitor attraction, providing future generations with positive memorable experiences.