Legal clash puts Marlborough College bid for Ivy House Hotel into limbo

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

 The future of Marlborough’s grade two listed Ivy House Hotel is in limbo following a clash of views between Wiltshire Council’s top officers over whether it should become a boarding house for girls from nearby Marlborough College.

The result of a planning application by the College for change of use of the 28-bed High Street hotel, one of only three in the town, was to have been decided by the council’s Regulatory Committee last week.

The final decision had been adjourned in February to allow its economic impact assessment officer, Peter Wheelhouse, to prepare a report following protests by Marlborough’s jazz and literary festival organisations that it would be a disaster for the vitality of the town to lose essential tourist accommodation.

His report recommended the rejection of the planning application for the Georgian property to house 50 girl students from the College, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of planning officer Mike Wilmot to give the hostel project the go ahead.

The committee had agreed to seek an economic impact assessment following representations from Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and the North Wilts Economic Partnership.

But when the committee met in Devizes last Thursday committee chairman, Councillor Charles Howard, revealed that the application had been taken off the agenda on the advice of the council’s legal department and was now “in abeyance”.

Jazz festival founder Nick Fogg, a Marlborough town councillor and also a member of Wiltshire Council, had led the protests against the conversion, was present at the meeting.

“The planning application is in limbo for the moment, kicked into the long grass with little chance of its revival,” he told Marlborough News Online. “I suppose the College could take some form of legal action or go through the whole process again with a different planning officer involved. We shall have to wait and see.”

He revealed: “I talked to the committee chairman after the meeting and it appears that what has happened has put the application legally out of order. The council’s legal department has said that this is because there is a direct conflict of interest between the views of the two council officers involved.

“The chairman has asked Mr Wilmot to try to resolve the issue between himself and Mr Wheelhouse, but this can’t be done unless one of them backs down and suffers some humiliation to their professional status.”

And he added: “One of the difficulties is that Mr Wilmot is said to have passed on to the College the contents of the economic impact assessment report in advance of the meeting and allowed the College to put in an addendum to their application.”

At the previous hearing, Peter Bryan, director of corporate resources and deputy master at the College, had pointed out that Ivy House started life as a school. He said the purchase of the hotel was part of a plan to increase the size of the College, which would help the vitality of Marlborough.

Following last week’s meeting, Mr Bryan told Marlborough News Online:  “Clearly Marlborough College will need to consider its position and take advice before deciding upon what to do next.”

Mr Howard later told Marlborough News Online:
"Would you please note that the application to the Eastern Area planning committee has been deferred for consideration at a later date. The announcement that I made to the committee, as chairman, and word for word, was as follows:
 As many of you already know, item one on the list of applications has been deferred for consideration at a later date. This is following legal advice about some of the material in the report prepared by the council's economic development team.”