Suffolk Punch centre deadline warning

A CHARITY has been given a 10-month deadline to build a £4million visitor centre which will safeguard the future of a world-famous Suffolk Punch stud – or the horses may be sold.

A CHARITY has been given a 10-month deadline to build a £4million visitor centre which will safeguard the future of a world-famous Suffolk Punch stud – or the horses may be sold.

The Suffolk Punch Trust Ltd has been told it has until August 31, 2005, to build the new centre at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, along with facilities for the heavy horse, one of the county's symbols.

Otherwise, the Prison Service, which currently runs the stud, may sell its 20 horses, marking the end of an era at the site.

The stud, which has about 20 horses, has been maintained there for more than 100 years and is seen as crucial to the breed's future.

The news emerged as an application was submitted to Suffolk Coastal District Council to change the site from a prison service facility to a Suffolk Punch Stud and Visitor Centre.

But it was also revealed in the application there are problems with potential access to the site which must be overcome before it can get the green light.

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News of the deadline will intensify efforts to raise the £4million needed for the project, which is being backed by HRH The Princess Royal, patron of the Suffolk Horse Society.

It has been warned the stud at Hollesley faces a bleak future if it does not attract revenue from visitors to sustain the specialist breeding skills and facilities to manage stallions. Prisoners from Hollesley Bay prison are currently involved in their upkeep there.

John Marsh, project manager with the Suffolk Punch Trust, warned: "This project is time critical – if we do not raise the funding to purchase the land and create the visitor by August 31, 2005, the Prison Service will sell off the horses, equipment and land which is, in fact, their easiest, most profitable option."

In a letter to Suffolk Coastal District Council, Mr Marsh added: "The prospect of continuing to benefit from the rehabilitation on the job training, education and acquisition of rural craft skills are the reasons why they (the Prison Service) chose the more difficult route of working with the trust.

''Concerns rightly focus on increases in traffic. However, there are some traffic reductions which will take place as the prison ceases to be a very large farmer necessitating heavy lorries delivering the requirements of a mixed farm which includes a dairy herd and arable crops."

But the plans have hit a hurdle. There is a dispute over the proposed access from Woodbridge Walk, the main route to the two prisons at Hollesley, and planning officers are asking councillors to consider refusing permission because of the ''unacceptable design of the access".

The location of the access has angered householders living in Woodbridge Walk, who warned that the combination of extra traffic and a new access could lead to accidents.

Hollesley parish council warned that the access was on a ''dangerous piece of road'' and it would prefer a new entrance from the water tower across the fields to the site. District councillors will discuss the plans on October 13.

The EADT launched a campaign to save the Suffolk Punch in February 2001 after it was revealed the reknowned stud farm at Hollesley Bay was threatened with closure under a Home Office review of prison farmland that could have lead to the herd being split up.

More than 30,000 signed petition forms urging prison bosses to safeguard the future of the stud farm, and stars such as television presenter Paul Heiney, who has kept Suffolk horses on his land for more than 10 years, and rock singer Chris Rea, who had visited the stud for a film project, backed the campaign. The EADT also received letters from across the world supporting the appeal.

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