The battle to save Marlborough’s grade II listed Ivy House Hotel from conversion into a girls’ hostel for students at Marlborough College has been lost.
Planning inspector Paul Jackson has allowed an appeal made by the College for change of use of the distinctive High Street property in the face of outright opposition from Marlborough town council, the Chamber of Commerce and leading residents.
And the decision has been described as a “disaster for the town” and one surprisingly made just days before the new Localism legislation was due to come into force, which could have swayed the decision.
Wiltshire Council too opposed the significant change of the 28-room hotel with its conference facilities, which dates back to the 18th century.
Inspector Jackson has decided that the conversion can go ahead on the basis that the loss of the hotel “would have no effect on the number of A1 shop uses in the High Street” despite evidence that the vitality of the town would be hit by its loss.
And he adds: “There would be a positive effect on income received by local businesses and an increase in wages that contribute to the local economy.”
“The vitality of the area would not be affected. The proposed development would not conflict with the aims PPS4 (a planning objective) or development plan policies and the appeal should be allowed.”
The College is believed to have been willing to pay £1.8 million for the freehold of the site, a purpose-built new girls’ hostel on its own extensive estate more likely to cost £6 million plus.
An alternative proposal being mooted by the objectors was for the hotel to be bought by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White and turned into a boutique hotel and upmarket restaurant, the enterprise backed by investors, among them Robert Hiscox, chairman of the international insurance company, who is High Sheriff of Wiltshire.
The success of the College has been met with delight and dismay.
Peter Bryan, the College’s director of corporate resources and deputy master, told Marlborough News Online: “Marlborough College makes a major contribution to the life of the town and to its prosperity. The addition of the Ivy House will enable us to further that commitment.”
But Wiltshire councillor Nicholas Fogg, twice mayor of Marlborough and still a town councillor, declared: “A disaster for the town. I find it significant that this decision was announced on the last working day before the Localism Bill became law.”
“If ever there was a justification for that piece of legislation it is to be found in this ill-informed and ill-considered decision. The Inspector seems to think that there are 51 hotel beds within five miles of Marlborough. Where are they?”
“The opinions of Marlborough Town Council, Wiltshire Council and the Chamber of Commerce apparently counted for nothing.”
Town councillor Richard Pitts protested: “This is a body blow to the town… in trying to develop tourism in a way that encourages people to use Marlborough as a place to stay and explore the area in green way by bus bike and on foot.”
“We, as a community, need to capitalise on our wonderful countryside. The loss of the lvy House Hotel makes it a whole lot harder.”
The government’s localism legislation was expected to give a preference to communities on the spot to decide the fate of their towns rather than planning decisions being in the hands of remote county councils and the government’s own planning inspectorate.
Claire Perry, Marlborough’s Tory MP, had suggested that under the new legislation the planning inspector could have handed the Ivy House decision back to Wiltshire and Marlborough town council as the final decisions makers.
Mr Fogg added: “I have a horrible feeling that this is it, but I will make inquiries.”
Marlborough College appealed after Wiltshire Council failed to make a decision on the controversial project within the normal timeframe. Had it been able to do so, it would have rejected the scheme.
The council’s planning committee believed the proposal “would result in the loss of an important tourist facility within the Marlborough area,” adding: “This would be detrimental to the vitality and viability of the area as a consequence of lost local employment and tourism related spend.”
The hotel owner had, however, produced evidence that the occupancy rates and revenue at the Ivy House had deteriorated over the past five years, the hotel having to close its restaurant for lunch and evening meals and operate as a bed and breakfast facility.