Major blow to Suffolk Punch project

By Richard SmithTHE multi-million-pound project to safeguard the future of the Suffolk Punch horse was under threat last night after it failed to win vital lottery funding.

By Richard Smith

They applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant of about £2.8m to cover the capital costs of the project.

But a spokesman for the fund said yesterday: “The Heritage Lottery Fund has assessed an application to purchase the Suffolk Punch Colony Stud in Hollesley Bay, near Woodbridge, and construct a visitor centre, display arena and craft workshops.

“Heritage Lottery Fund recognises the importance of the survival of the Suffolk Punch and the special role that the breed plays in the heritage of Suffolk and East Anglia.

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“However, trustees could not support this application as they did not feel that it represented a cost effective solution.

“Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded over £30m to a wide variety of projects across Suffolk, from the restoration of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds to the development of Sutton Hoo, and a host of smaller, community-based projects that have made a big difference on a local level.”

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The East Anglian Daily Times has supported the project and thousands of readers have signed petitions to save the Suffolk Punch.

John Marsh, manager of the Hollesley Bay project, said: “The Suffolk Punch Trust always knew this was a very ambitious project with a number of social, educational, environmental and conservation aims being delivered at the same time.

“The business plan that the trust produced showed that these objectives complimented one another and if they could all be delivered quickly, the overall cost of the project would be contained to within a figure of around £4m.

“Heritage Lottery, when making their decision, clearly took into account the amount of money being requested and made some value judgments about the likely success of a new venture with a very challenging development and operation programme.”

He added: “It is a major blow to the plans for the education and heritage centre which the trust wants to create at Hollesley and the trust is already downsizing the project and extending the timescales for delivery.

“Conserving the Colony Stud of Suffolk horses at Hollesley and creating income to maintain them is now the first priority.

“The trust is vigorously exploring other funding avenues so that the land, buildings, horses and equipment can be purchased, and site improvements made to allow the public some access, in order to generate income to cover costs.”

An agreement has been signed with the Prison Service, giving the trust first refusal to buy the existing stud, stable block and 180 acres of adjoining land at Hollesley Bay at an agreed market value.

But the option to buy must be exercised by August 31 and the final date for completing the purchase is March 31, 2006.

A public appeal was launched in November by broadcaster Paul Heiney, and Princess Anne made a “very generous donation”.

She also wrote in support of the appeal, saying: “This centre will ensure the survival of this stud of Suffolk horses, provide education facilities for children and adults and assist in the rehabilitation of inmates at the prison at Hollesley Bay.

“This important project, which embraces such a wide range of activities, deserves our support. I wish the trust every success as it launches this important appeal.”

The capital costs include £450,000 to buy the land and stud buildings, £100,000 for horses and equipment, and £225,643 to refurbish the stable block.

The visitor centre will cost £840,000, the craft workshops £230,000, the display arena £189,000 and the car park and new access road £233,098.

The project also includes the keeping of other Suffolk breeds, Red Poll cattle, Suffolk sheep and the Large Black Pig.

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