Furious campaigners today slammed the decision to sell the former home of Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, describing the move as ”farcical”.
Sir Edward Heath at Arundells in 1992
Arundells, a sprawling mansion-cum-museum in Salisbury, was Ted Heath’s home from 1985 until his death at the age of 89 in 2005.
He left the house to the nation, but plans are now being drawn up to sell the Georgian-fronted property after crippling costs drained the late politician’s will.
Heath, a confirmed bachelor, had no decedents and left £5.7 million – with the £3 million home making up a huge a bulk of his assets – alongside his archive of papers and artefacts.
He stipulated the property be opened ”for the education of the public”, leaving around £400,000 for its maintenance.
Arundells opened as a museum in 2008 and has attracted more than 30,000 visitors over the past three summers – but despite its popularity the money left to subsidise the home has run out.
The charitable foundation which runs the property near Salisbury Cathedral estimates each visitor is subsidised to the tune of £15 with the basic £5 entrance fee failing to cover the running costs.
Now the foundation has been given permission by the Charity Commission to sell Arundells as it struggles to pay the crippling six-figure maintenance bills it costs to stay open.
But the announcement has been described as ”absolutely farcical” by furious campaigners who feel the property could be run to a profit under the right business model.
Tony Burnside, campaign co-ordinator for the Friends of Arundells, said: ”We’re enraged at the prospect of selling off this property.
”Arundells is the uplifting story of a humble man’s rise to the top. He was a very private man and the house gives the public an incredible insight into his life.
”The unique content of the property will be auctioned off and end up in the four corners of the globe never to be reunited.
”A sale of the property and its contents could raise in excess of £10 million but this could be gone within a generation. Arundells would stay in the public’s hands for a great deal longer.
A spokesperson for the trustee said: ”The cumulative operating loss since opening is around £450,000, which equates to an average subsidy of over £15 a visitor.
”The foundation have explored a range of alternative ways in which Arundells might be able to be kept open and have consulted English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association, the National Trust and other professional advisers.
”The advice they have received confirms the Trustees’ conclusion that the Foundation could never financially viable so long as Arundells is retained and operated as a visitor attraction.”
But this has been disputed by the Friends of Arundells.
Mr Burnside added: ”The Trustees’ current business plan has been a dog’s dinner. They missed 60 days of this season by getting planning permission late. Arundells could have taken £1,000 a day during this time.
”The area in which Arundells is set is surrounded by other heritage properties which continue to remain open.
”If they used volunteers, gift aid and ran fund-raising events like these establishments, then Arundells could easily cover its costs.
”As a wedding reception venue alone the property could take £10,000 a time.
”The Trustees have never consulted the public about the selling of the house, they refuse to meet us to discuss this and refuse to have a public debate on the situation.
”The whole situation is absolutely farcical. We have everything to fight for over this contemptible deal and will fight it all the way.”