Marlborough College ignored the needs of the town
While having no interest in perpetuating controversy, I think it is important to reply to Bob Burns’ letter below.
As I understand it the immediate previous owners, who are a food company not hoteliers, purchased the Ivy House, then a successful going concern, only about four years ago.
I have no idea what their motive was for doing so, only that, by all accounts, little was spent on maintaining the hotel as was evidenced by numerous comments posted on line by hotel guests who, while praising the hotel’s location and the staff, commented adversely on the condition of the fabric. Not long after the purchase the owners started to look round for a buyer but for some reason it was marketed in a very low key manner. Few people in the town were I think aware of this.
The College decided to purchase the building rather than build on its own land which would have been a neater and possibly longer lasting solution. It therefore sought permission for change of use from the Wiltshire Council.
The Council did not handle this well. It adjourned the original application pending a report on the effect change of use would have on the local economy.
When the report came out it recommended refusal for good and substantial reasons emphasising the importance for the town’s economy in having sufficient bed spaces for the tourists it hoped would be attracted to the town, not least by the fact that those bed spaces would be available.
Despite this the council’s chief planning officer vigorously supported the application and consequently conflicting advice was being given by its officers to the Planning Committee.
Unfortunately, instead of resolving this impasse promptly the council allowed the statutory time limit for determination of the application to be exceeded, allowing the College to appeal to the district Inspector against the council’s decision to refuse.
Ignoring the cogent economic arguments of the report, he allowed the application.
I am afraid that I am inclined to believe the conclusions of the economic report rather than Mr Burns’ somewhat unscientific analysis of how and whether hotel guests spent their money in the town.
The question of security is a matter for the College. Preshute and Somerfield (the latter marginally) are indeed outside the College “envelope” but that does not justify further extension.
Cordial relationships require mutual understanding of the other’s position. The College has played its cards extremely close to its chest so that it is difficult to understand its motivation for moving into the town in this way except from the simple desire to save money.
That is all very well for the College but what about the needs of the town especially during the worst economic recession for decades?
The College is the town’s largest employer, for which we must be grateful, but not at the cost of inflicting harm on other much smaller businesses.
Once the plight of the Ivy House became known, after a period of considerable secrecy, interest was shown by credible purchasers who would have invested in it as a good quality hotel not one of the other more down-market businesses Mr Burns mentions.
Having said this, the issues have been thoroughly explored over the past few months and there is no further point in continuing the argument. We must all move on.