Loss-making estate, about to go into private hands, will stage gigs, fairs and markets in bid to lure 1.2m visitors

CROXTETH Hall and Country Park is to stay in public hands after Liverpool City Council today scrapped plans to hand it over to a private operator.. 

In a surprise change of heart the authority says it now intends to turn the 500 acre estate into a major tourist destination that will attract more than a 1.2 million people a year. 

The cash-strapped authority says it will implement a major funding programme to transform the fortunes of what it describes as the “unpolished jewel in Liverpool’s crown”.

Lawrence Kenwright’s Signature Living hotel group was one of two leading bidders in a five-month-long council procurement process to find a commercial outside operator to take on the loss-making country house and land. The winning tender had been due to be revealed last month.

But now the council says it can do the job itself and is looking to turn the former home to the Earls of Sefton it into an income generator, “based on a National Trust model”.  

A new team of event managers and marketeers will be hired to turn the hall and grounds, Liverpool’s biggest public green space, into an earner.

A report to Liverpool City Council’s cabinet, this Friday, will recommend  a major repair programme to the house as well as funding and developing income-generating measures, including events such as concerts, seasonal fairs and “artisan” markets, better food, drink and hospitality provision, capitalising on its current wedding market and better parking. 

It points to commercial successes made at other public buildings in the city, namely the Town Hall and St George’s Hall and events there such as the Disney Pixar animation to Christmas Markets (but not Hope & Glory).

The hall and country park, which also accommodates an adventure playground, gift shop, aerial rope adventure course, horse riding centre and café, currently attracts in excess of 600,000 visits a year, says the council, “but these numbers could double under the new plan”. 

At the moment the estate costs the council £1m a year,  it says, but makes just £600,000 back, and the report recommends a fund be established to carry out the works.  An estate manager will also be appointed.

“Croxteth Hall and Country Park is the unpolished jewel in this city’s crown and it has become increasingly clear that the economic case for the council to retain the estate, invest in its offer, build a team and promote the events was the approach that made the most sense," said Councillor Steve Munby, Cabinet Member for City Services.

Discussions are also under way, says the council, to relocate Myerscough College to a new educational centre which will free up 44 rooms and enable it to further develop commercial events within the hall.

The college, which has use of the walled garden and the stable yard café, is also currently developing a £3.5m animal and equine educational centre.

Cllr Munby added: “On behalf of the council, the hall’s trustees and local community and voluntary groups I would like to thank the bidders for their time and effort. They provided detailed but very different proposals to operate the hall and park with both bids having different strengths and weaknesses.”

He added: “I fully appreciate they will be disappointed not to be given the opportunity to manage the estate but this new commercialisation approach to our parks has negated the need for an external operator at Croxteth.

“The fact we are undergoing huge cuts to its services has led to a radical rethink of how we run many of our services including our parks. Having already transformed the fortunes of St George’s Hall and the Town Hall fills me with confidence that we can achieve great things at Croxteth to ensure it is enjoyed for generations to come.”