Marlborough College has been accused of scoring “a massive own goal” and inflicting “considerable harm” to the town’s economy by taking over the grade II listed Ivy House Hotel as a hostel for its female students.
Retired solicitor Sir John Sykes (pictured) wrote yesterday (Tuesday) to Sir Hayden Phillips, chairman of the College’s council, after it refused to back down on its £1.8 million hotel takeover bid despite the outcry from objectors.
Sir John, one of whose sons was a student at the College, has been an outspoken opponent of the expansion into town property when the College, where the Duchess of Cambridge was once a student, has such a large estate of its own.
Along with Wiltshire Council, Marlborough town council, the Chamber of Commerce and others, he has declared that the loss of the hotel will be a disaster for the town.
But despite his latest outburst, Sir John, who chairs Marlborough’s historic Merchant House trustees, is hopeful that “concrete ideas” to benefit the town might come out of rapprochement initiatives currently taking place.
And Sir Hayden, now recovering from a major operation, tells him: “I would like to feel now that the issue is settled, that the College and those who have opposed our purchase could find a way to re-establish the good relations that have normally existed and which I am sure are the right way forward for both town and College.”
Sir John originally wrote to Sir Hayden in December asking whether the College would negotiate a re-sale of the 28-bedroom Ivy House to another hotelier, as was believed to be a possibility before the contract was finalised.
In his reply, delayed because of his operation, Sir Hayden gives a definite No and says that any such voluntary abandonment “would fly in the face” of the council’s duty to fulfil “this important educational opportunity” to expand.
He adds: “I know you will understand the position that the council is bound to take, even though I realise that you would have liked a different outcome.”
Sir John accepts the fait accompli as “disappointing” and responds: “We now all have to accept that things have passed the point of no return and must move on.”
“However, I would not want the governors to be under any illusion that there is a substantial body of opinion in the town that the College has scored a massive own goal by expanding into the town in this way and in so doing inflicting a considerable amount of harm to the town’s economic interests.”
He protests: “You will have seen how much the average High Street is suffering at the present time and Marlborough’s High Street is no exception with most shops offering ‘70% off’ to try and stay in business.”
“Keeping the tourist trade alive and thriving is a major factor in the local economy, but without the bed spaces to support it would-be visitors will spend their money elsewhere.”
“The College’s role in the local economy is undoubtedly substantial, but it is of course catering to a different market and, in any case, it would be unwise to be too dependent on any one institution or business however solid it appears to be.”
But Sir John accepts there is a positive need to move on and welcomes future discussions, albeit with a decisive caveat.
“I am not sure how helpful this will be in the overall scheme of things unless the College can come up with some concrete ideas to help remedy a pretty dire economic scenario,” he concludes.