Town planners vote 6-4 not to oppose College’s boarding house plans
The flags were flying over Marlborough Town Hall today to celebrate the mayor’s birthday, while below councillors were discussing the public school that has educated a princess, our future queen, and the prime minister’s wife.
The next generation of Eugenies, Kates and Sam Cams will benefit from the building of Marlborough College’s £5 million, 71-bed girls’ boarding house on a ‘green lung’ at the West End of the town, on a triangle of land at the entrance to College Fields called Elmhurst Triangle, and known locally as The Paddock.
But as reported by Marlborough News Online last week, Historic England – the conservation arm of English Heritage until the body was split into two last year – has demanded ‘improvements’ to the design of the building, which it says will have “a marked impact on the Conservation Area’s character and its immediate setting.”
And at Marlborough Town Council’s planning committee this evening (Monday) a handful of councillors were moved to agree as elected members were given the opportunity to pose questions directly to the College’s director of estates, Bill Roe, while Standing Orders (the rules governing who can speak) were suspended.
The revolt was led by Brian Castle, who expressed concern that the College was developing in a piecemeal fashion, and demanded to know when the 173-year-old institution was going to demonstrate some joined-up thinking.
Addressing Mr Roe, he said: “Historic England has asked 'When this is all going to end?' I suspect it won’t stop with this boarding house. You haven’t produced a long-term plan for the College. You’re working short-term.”
Mr Roe said that over the past six years, the College had embarked on a £35m refurbishment plan. “The need for a master plan has become apparent,” he conceded. “The intention is to have a master plan in the near future…”
“Before June 6?” asked Cllr Castle, referring to the date when the planning application is expected to be put before Wiltshire Council planners.
“…but not before June 6,” continued Mr Roe.
Councillor Justin Cook asked a question about the number of jobs the College provided for the town, before deciding that, as his taxi company has a contract with Marlborough College, his was one of them, and that he should declare an interest. He went to sit on the sidelines with councillor Lisa Farrell, a hospitality manager at the College. Neither was permitted to vote.
(Mr Roe answered that the College employs around 500 people directly, plus “numerous suppliers, from tree surgeons to people who make curtains. A multi-million pound revenue budget goes through my department every year.”)
Standing Orders re-established, the planning committee examined the merits - or otherwise - of the building. Opening the debate, committee chairman Marian Hannaford-Dobson said she was “very, very happy to see a red brick building, not a demented coat hanger.”
“I dispute it’s a lovely red brick building,” responded Cllr Castle. “I get the impression it’s a dark, austere building. I don’t think it goes with the buildings in the Conservation Area, including the Memorial Hall and other College buildings."
“I would urge the College to think about lightening up the brickwork.”
Councillor Nick Fogg went further, criticising a 'mediocre' design which he described as looking like ‘a 19th Century barracks'.
“This site deserves better,” he said. “We would be doing a service to the College [to ask them to] come up with something better.”
Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton, however, said it was a 'decent design. While proposing a motion to offer ‘no objections’ to the planning application, councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson said: “I do wish the College to thrive; it’s important to the town.
“We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of them keeping up with the pack [referring to other fee-paying schools].
“I think it’s a handsome building, and unhesitatingly support the application.”
Councillor Kirk Wilson’s proposal was seconded by Alex Light, and the motion was carried by six votes to four.
The final say rests with the planning committee at Wiltshire Council, who are due to debate the application on June 6.
Interested parties have until Thursday, April 14 to comment on the planning application, which can be found online at http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/planninganddevelopment.htm using the reference number 16/02126/FUL