AMBITIOUS plans have been unveiled that could change the face of Hagley Park and transform the historic site into a major UK tourist attraction.
The plans, submitted to Bromsgrove District Council, include building a £2.5million visitor centre in the grounds of Hagley Hall to incorporate a restaurant, gift shop, study rooms and a three-bedroom ranger’s house.
There are also proposals for a children’s play area and car parking for up to 180 vehicles including coaches.
It’s anticipated the new attraction could draw between 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a year, with the revenue raised going towards helping to fund the restoration of the 290-acre park and its numerous listed buildings, bringing them back to their former 18th century glory.
And it would be the first time Hagley Park has ever been open to the public.
Lord Chris Cobham said: "It's very important to bring back the 18th century park. It''ll be good for the area. It's such an important garden.
"I didn’t know until six years ago, and I live there and grew up there, how important the park is on a national stage. Back in the 18th century it was visited by two US presidents - John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – and they compared it with Blenheim and Stowe."
Andrew Russell-Wilks, of planning and development consultants Ancer Spa Ltd, expects the plan to go before the district council within the next 12 weeks and - if approved - the park could open to the public in 2016.
He said: "We’ve had research taken on a number of similar historic buildings to estimate the amount of visitors. Figures suggest we’re looking in the region of 75,000 a year, although if successful that could rise to 100,000.
“However, we remain mindful that too many visitors could spoil the park and the effect, but there are ways in which we can control that through pricing and opening hours.”
The planned visitor centre would be built on green belt but the applicants hope special circumstances will be taken into consideration.
A large amount of work has already taken place at Hagley Park under the stewardship of Lord Cobham since succeeding his brother in 2007.
Park walkways have been cleared and reinstated, water features dredged and repaired while the Palladian Bridge has been completely rebuilt.
Work has also taken place to restore the Rotunda after it was vandalised. As a result, the Grade II listed building has been taken off English Heritage’s buildings at risk list.
However the Temple of Theseus, a Grade 1 building still remains on the list.
The estate has been able to obtain grants from both Natural England and English Heritage - but on condition that the public and schools have access to the park.
Lord Cobham has also introduced initiatives to help raise funds including opening up Hagley Hall to hire for weddings, conferences and other functions.
He has also sold non-core parts of the estate, property and less important house contents - and he remains committed to putting the estate back on a financially sustainable footing, insisting it must pay its way.