Restoration Man George Clarke has praised and “amazing” plan to bring St Osyth’s historic priory back to its former glory.
The Sargeant family, which owns the site, said works are well under way at the Priory, which dates back to the 12th century.
Two newly-restored historic buildings at the site – the Grade II listed Bailiffs Cottage and Toll Barn were unveiled on Tuesday as part of the launch of a new business plan.
The plan is aimed at cutting the £27.6 million conservation deficit – the funding gap between the cost of restoration and the final value of a building – to £15 million.
The vision includes creating a visitor centre, wedding facilities, a spa and holiday cottages, glamping and 42 guest suites, which could be open within three to four years.
The plan was backed by architect George Clarke, who presents Channel 4’s The Restoration Man and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
Mr Clarke, who is Chairman of the St Osyth Priory and Parish Trust, said the restoration of the cottage and barns were “second to none.”
He added: “Really good restoration projects have got to get the balance between respecting the history and providing new things that will attract people – and this plan will do that.
“I have a passion of old buildings – it was a no brainer when Tim Sargeant called me up and asked if I wanted to help out.
“I’m always trying to push the standards up but they’re doing a good job anyway. These building are going to stand the test of time.
“I’m very proud to be involved in the project – not many people know about this place. And to me it’s a hidden gem.
“It’s absolutely fantastic – the quality and standard of the architecture is amazing.”
Mr Clarke added that the Priory was an asset for the whole community and that the Sargeant family were simply the custodians of the historic site, which he said had been going to “wrack and ruin.”
He added that while enabling developments – permission for housing developments to pay for restoration work – were controversial, they were necessary to save the historic buildings.
“It’s always controversial restoring a building and generating funds, especially with enabling developments.” He said.
“It’s always a debate and everyone has their own view on it. It has happened with every single project I have been involved with on Restoration Man.
“If these estates don’t move with the times, they will just die and we have got to start making compromises.
“It will be opened to the public in many ways, which is fantastic. Having a visitor centre and educational site is fantastic as well.”
The business plan is dependent on raising £4.6million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £2.5 million for visitors and £1million from weddings over ten years.
An additional £3.3million will also be raised via the approved enabling developments of 190 homes at the Wellwick site off Colchester Rd, 89 houses in the park and at the West Field site.
Mr Sargeant said there would be no more major residential development on the Priory Estate, but plans could also be submitted for extra homes at the former quarry at Martin’s Farm to raise cash for conservation work.
Mr Sargeant added: “Everybody is going to be able to come and see the Priory and enjoy it. It is going to be great for the area.
“We need to make sure it’s phased and that we get it up and running as quickly as possible to get some income coming in.
“We are now looking at getting The Gatehouse done, which is already funded to be restored as part of the enabling development.
“We have got to agree the business plan with the local authority to make sure they are happy with what we are trying to achieve.”
The plans could see a new application submitted to increase the number of new homes at the West Field Site, behind Mill Road from 72 to 80.
It will also see wedding facilities set up in the historic Tithe Barn and a new visitor centre would be based in the Walled Garden, off Colchester Road.
It would include a viewing platform over the parkland, a café, shop and education centre.
The visitor attractions could include parkland walks, an adventure playground, guided tours of the historic precinct buildings and the Abbots Tower.
The walled garden would also include a new spa, including two treatment rooms, jacuzzi, plunge pool, steam room and holiday cottages.