The future of one of Watford’s highest grade listed buildings is in doubt after confirmation it is being put up for sale.

Little Cassiobury, a Grade II* listed building in Hempstead Road, thought to be a dower house from the late 17th Century, may be sold after Hertfordshire County Council reportedly received an offer from a property developer.

According to Little Cassiobury Community Interest Company (CIC), this would involve selling it for "several million pounds" to be converted for residential use.

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The council was asked about the claim, following which it said the building "will be launched to the market shortly".

The CIC was looking to restore the site for community use but now claims the council, which owns the building, has U-turned on an agreement to transfer the property.

Watford Observer: Little Cassiobury interiorLittle Cassiobury interior (Image: Little Cassiobury CIC)

The council allegedly claimed it would be a detriment to the public purse to transfer an asset worth well into six figures, adding it also needed to consider “Watford’s urgent and growing housing requirement”.

An assessment by Historic England described the building as "in slow decay with no solution agreed".

CIC Director Alex Macgregor Mason said: “It’s gone from a community matter to just a commercial matter.”

He described the possibility of the building being used for flats as “a reasonable assumption”, adding “if you sell it to one family its hardly counting much to Watford’s building stock”.

“It’s very significant not only locally but nationally and it’s the last substantially remaining Earls of Essex estate in Watford.”

The CIC confirmed it will contact the Local Government Ombudsman because it had raised money on the basis of the agreements it claims it had with the council, including a Heads of Agreement.

Watford Observer: Little CassioburyLittle Cassiobury (Image: Little Cassiobury CIC)It argues it had a “legitimate expectation” the property would be transferred if it was successful in securing funds to repair and refurbish it.

As a Grade II* listed building, Little Cassiobury is considered among the top 10% of the most important listed buildings in the country.

Elected Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor, said: “Little Cassiobury is one of only three Grade II* buildings in Watford and is a key part of our heritage.

“It is important that any plans Hertfordshire County Council have as the owners take into account the building's history and place in the town’s heritage."

He also highlighted the “significant protections” in place to prevent “inappropriate development of the building”.

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The council said it had responded to the CIC’s enquiries.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We have discussed the possibility of the Friends of Little Cassiobury taking on the property and in 2013 provided a letter of possible intentions for them to seek funding to take on the property.  

“No legal agreements have ever been put in place. In 2017 the property was leased to Watford Borough Council with an option to purchase the building, but this expired in April 2020 without the option being taken up. 

“The property will be launched to the market shortly and any interested parties will be able to bid for the property.”

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