Campaigners want former PM's home to stay open to the public

But Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation says it is not viable

Former prime minister Sir Edward Heath's home, Arundells
Former prime minister Sir Edward Heath's home, Arundells

A campaign group has disputed claims by the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation that keeping the former Prime Minister’s home open to the public is not financially viable.

In September the Charity Commission refused to allow trustees of the foundation to sell Arundells, a £6m Georgian building in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral.

The regulator said trustees should arrange an independent review to assess whether it was feasible to raise enough money to keep the property open to the public. The trustees, who include Lord Armstrong, Heath’s private secretary at Number 10, had argued the charity could not afford to keep running the site

The charity published a statement earlier this week that said it would "test the feasibility" of keeping the home open to the public and would apply for planning permission to open it for longer periods and to use it for concerts and wedding receptions.

But the statement also said: "The trustees remain unconvinced that that there is any possibility of achieving financial viability for the foundation so long as Arundells is retained and opened to the public. 

"They remain of the view that it would be in the best interests of the charity to close Arundells, sell the property, allow it to revert to residential use, and use the proceeds of sale for other charitable purposes as provided for in Sir Edward Heath’s will."

The Friends of Arundells, a campaign group that opposes the sale of the site, disputed the charity’s statement.

Tony Burnside, campaign co-ordinator of the group, said: "Heath wanted this to be a lively place that was open to the public. It could be used for conferences, seminars, debates, cultural and music events and all sorts of other things.

"We have drawn up a business plan that shows the foundation could break even on the costs of running the property by 2012, and the Charity Commission has also said they should look for other ways of raising money.

"I’m pleased that the trustees seem to be taking some steps towards this but, as far as we can tell, they are not enthusiastic about it, and their statement confirms this to me. I’m worried that they won’t do all they can, or all they need to do, to make sure that it is viable."

Lord Armstrong said he was happy to follow the Commission's request that the charity assesses whether the home could be kept open, but that he was sceptical. 

"It's no good pretending that we think this can be done," he said. "Quite simply we don't see how it is going to work.

"We have applied to various heritage bodies for funding, without success, and we are running at a deficit of £150,000 a year. We would have to have an awful lot of events to make any significant contribution to the deficit." 

He said he had seen the campaigners' business plans and did not think they were feasible. "We've been looking at their figures for a year now and I think it is wishful thinking," he said. 

"It is not that we don't want to follow the terms of Heath's will by keeping the house open; it is that we have tried hard but we don't see a way of making it work." 

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