doc

The first public meeting about the future of a much-loved heritage attraction will be held next week, amid ongoing fears of a ‘gunpowder plot’.

Children’s activity company PGL and the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills Charitable Foundation (RGMCF) hope to transform the site in Beaulieu Drive but have faced significant local opposition.

Plans from PGL include creating a new outdoor activity centre for children with guest accommodation, providing spaces for 850 children and room for around 100 staff and teachers.

A new light railway, water activity lake, zip-wires, climbing walls and target range are also included in the plans.

Protestors have claimed the proposals could threaten jobs, valuable artefacts and public access to the site.

Many are concerned that they have not been properly consulted about the plans, which have not yet been officially submitted to Epping Forest District Council.

Waltham Abbey Green party coordinator Dave Plummer welcomed the meeting announcement earlier this month.

He said: “Public consultation to date has been minimal, limited to displays of plans and a meeting for Beaulieu Drive residents which was initially cancelled and then held at very short notice.

“We hope that the town council's public meeting will be an open platform to discuss the future of the Royal Gunpowder Mills, not just the current PGL Holidays proposal.

“The Mills' volunteers have put countless hours into renovating and restoring buildings on the site for public use, not to see them fenced off in a private holiday camp.”

If the PGL planning application is successful, the Royal Gunpowder Mills will also benefit from a £5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the repair of “deteriorating” buildings on the site.

Mr Plummer added: “Let's see if there are better ways to spend that money, ways which protect public access to the site, create real local jobs, benefit local businesses, preserve natural habitats and help us ensure a viable future for this renowned heritage site.”

Ahead of the meeting next Tuesday (December 1), an article also emerged on a school activity website, quoting the RGM’s chief executive Andrew Coates and suggesting that the PGL plans are definitely going ahead and will be complete in May 2016 – despite earlier claims of a potential spring 2017 finish.

The article, on schooltravelorganiser.com, also suggests the lottery funding has already been granted.

A volunteer at the attraction said the article shows Mr Coates and PGL believe their plans are a “foregone conclusion.”

The town council meeting runs from 7.30pm to 9.30pm next Tuesday at the town hall in Highbridge Street.

The developers have been contacted for comment.