Surrey home safe from Magna Carta visitor centre threat

image captionRunnymede council said it would focus its efforts on other plans to mark the anniversary

A woman whose home would have been demolished if a Magna Carta visitor centre was built near Egham has spoken of her relief after the plans were called off.

Lynne Bates has lived in St Anne's Cottage with her husband for 20 years.

Under the plans for the centre in Runnymede Pleasure Ground, the three-bedroom house in Windsor Road would have been pulled down.

Runnymede council halted the project after funding could not be secured in time to build the centre for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta in 2015.

Last month, Surrey County Council (SCC) withdrew a £5m contribution towards the £8m building, and last year a lottery bid by Runnymede council failed.

Mrs Bates said: "I'm extremely happy and delighted that Runnymede Borough Council along with Surrey County Council have come to this right conclusion."

She said: "The decision was flawed from the beginning. There has always been huge opposition."

Mrs Bates said she and her husband worked for Runnymede council and were service tenants so they would have been found another place to live.

But she said: "It still doesn't take away the fact that it's a really good three-bedroomed home and we have lived there for 20 years and it has caused us 18 months of insecurity and stress in the knowledge that our home could have been demolished."

Last year, Mrs Bates spearheaded a 503-name petition opposing the centre, which was submitted to SCC.

The petition said the plans were for a large, unsympathetic design building on open space and said campaigners had support from the Campaign to Protect Rural England which objected to increased visitor numbers and traffic and impact on the wildlife habitat.

image captionLynne Bates and her husband have lived in the cottage for 20 years

Great pride

Responding to the petition, SCC said it had supported the visitor centre because of the tremendous national importance of Magna Carta in terms of heritage education, economic development, tourism and great pride in the county.

It said it wanted to see a state-of-the-art facility within an impressive, sustainable, and architecturally distinguished landmark building that would tell the story of Magna to both local and international visitors.

However last month, SCC withdrew £5m in funding and said it was not sure whether the site was right or whether the centre would open in time.

County councillor Helyn Clack, community services spokesman, said: "We always said we would support the project only if we were convinced there was a watertight business case."

After the centre plans were halted, Runnymede council leader Patrick Roberts said that Runnymede was very proud to have witnessed one of the most important events in British history.

He said: "The visitor centre project would have provided a local educational legacy as well as a boost to the local economy, but unfortunately the required funding has not been secured in the desired timescales."

Mrs Bates said local people still wanted to see affordable and enjoyable celebrations.

She said: "We've done our own consultation and we're already working on some great ideas."

Suggestions include having a visitor centre nearer or in Egham town centre, holding a river pageant on the Thames, and a Magna Carta charity event.

Runnymede council has also said it will now develop other plans to mark the occasion to ensure there is still a fitting tribute to mark the anniversary, with final plans to be confirmed by the summer.

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