Much-loved Chilterns Open Air Museum under threat from property developer | Heritage

One of the country’s most popular open-air museums is threatening the “peace and privacy” of a new private estate in Buckinghamshire where a family attraction has been warned by its developer.

Comer Homes bought the 18th-century estate Newland Park in 2011 for £15m and five years later was granted planning permission for the 309-home development.

Newland Park indicator

The Chilton Open Air Museum, which has 37 preserved historic buildings, is located on the property. One of the conditions for planning permission for luxury houses is that the freehold of the museum be transferred to him “for the sum of £1”.

But six years later the freehold has still not been transferred and the museum now says Comer Houses is threatening its future.

The site has also been a filming location for popular shows Downton Abbey, Call the midwife And Scary stories. But the developer says shooting the film, which involves “HGV vehicles, a large cast and crew,” will pose a major challenge.

The museum said it was forced to cancel its popular Halloween event on Oct. 28, which draws nearly 2,000 people, after the Comer Houses refused to allow concrete blocks to be placed on the land they occupy in the museum’s public parking lot.

The first agreement is that the land will be used only for the purpose of the museum. The developer claims the museum’s commercial operations violated the lease.

Fundraising enterprises marketed by the museum include weddings, receptions and banquets promoted from 6-10 p.m. The property group complained about fireworks and “loud music playing until the early hours”.

Some of the actors of the popular children's program horror stories
Cast members of the popular children’s program Scary Tales, which used the museum as a location. Photo: Andrew Hayes-Watkins/Lion TV

A law firm representing the developer wrote on October 30 threatening to take action against plans to film on the site. The next day, the concrete blocks are used as a parking lot at the entrance to the field.

“It is with great sadness that we must announce the cancellation of our Halloween spectacular,” the museum said in an Oct. 7 statement. “We save and rebuild historic buildings that are threatened by development, and now we’re at risk ourselves.”

Elizabeth Parsons, co-founder of the newly formed Save Chiltern Open Air Museum, said: “Comer Homes must honor the agreement to hand over the freehold. Many people who visited with their children or grandchildren misjudged the locals and their love for the museum.

The museum opened to the public in 1981. The buildings include a Victorian toll house, a granary and a 16th century barn.

Comer Holmes said he considers the museum a “wonderful community asset” and is willing to host the Halloween event. He said he was a supportive landlord in allowing the field to be used for parking.

A fire eater at the museum's Halloween spectacular.
A fire eater at the museum’s Halloween spectacular. Photo: COAM

He said he was willing to go ahead with the Halloween event on “several occasions” but didn’t get a request for more parking. He said he blocked off access to the field to prevent fly infestations.

He said: “We would also like to emphasize our continued commitment to transfer the freehold. [the museum]. However, this process is complicated and requires discussion between the two parties.

“There have been repeated breaches of the current lease, one of which includes playing loud music until the wee hours of the morning. This is a situation we need to address before the first residents move into Newland Park to ensure their peace and privacy is not compromised.”

He said he doesn’t want the museum to go out of business, but he is concerned about the traffic that comes with filming and nightly music. It is said that they are going to have a discussion with the hope of solving the problems.

The Comer Group was founded 30 years ago by brothers Brian and Luke Comer, plasterers from County Galway, Ireland. The brothers are reportedly moving to Monaco as their international property business expands.

Peter Strachan, Buckinghamshire Council’s cabinet member for planning and regeneration, said the developer had not transferred the freehold because negotiations were still ongoing and the council was reviewing the matter.

The museum said: “Our main aim has always been to be a museum, but we are an independent charity and have to raise our own income. Any suspension would have a significant impact on our ability to achieve our charitable objectives.

The museum never allowed fireworks on site and said it was not aware of any loud music at night.

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