No guide price has been put on the Grade I listed Palladian mansion at Rickmansworth, home to the prestigious Moor Park golf club, but Sotheby's values its artworks and fixtures at pounds 3m.
The mansion is being sold by Three Rivers council, which says it cannot meet the pounds 4.3m maintenance and restoration costs. The golf club, which enjoys a low-rent, non-repairing lease with 70 years left to run, will refuse to negotiate with rival buyers, says the council's chief executive, Alastair Robertson.
The decision to sell Moor Park after 54 years of public ownership has prompted the club to set up companies to fund purchase of the freehold and to develop leisure facilities in the shadow of the mansion. Articles of association list pubs, bingo halls and motels among facilities that might be built.
Directors include Michael Buckland, an adviser to the club and a Conservative member of Hertfordshire County Council, which would take 25 per cent of the sale proceeds. He has informed the county secretary of his interest.
If the club can see off rival bidders, the value of the site could be pounds 85m, Mr Robertson has estimated in a private report to Three Rivers council. He said yesterday: 'I am not going to speculate on the price. We are deliberately, on advice, not putting it in. The council decided that if it was going to a sale, the primary objective was not to make as much as possible; it wanted to make sure the building was looked after in the right way.'
English Heritage has already indicated it would support some development of Moor Park, which was remodelled by architect and painter Sir James Thornhill in the early 18th century.
The sale is taking place at the same time as formal arbitration proceedings to fix a rent increase. The golf club, which has 1,700 playing and social members, at present pays pounds 22,150 a year. Last year it had a turnover of pounds 1.2m.
Selling now also goes against the advice of the surveyors Chestertons, which told the council to wait if it wanted the best price.
The club's chief executive, John Davies, refused to comment on whether it would refuse to negotiate with prospective buyers. The club has previously used its lease to veto the council's own development proposals to raise money to restore the mansion.
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