Ivy House Hotel sale would be a disaster for Marlborough declares Sir John Sykes
Sir John Sykes, one of Marlborough’s leading residents, has made a passionate plea for the rejection of the bid by Marlborough College to buy the grade II listed Ivy House Hotel and convert it into a boarding house for girl students.
A planning inquiry is due later this year to decide the College’s application for a change of use for the 18th century property, whose retention as a hotel is now backed by both Wiltshire Council and Marlborough town council.
But the College, whose female students in the past have included the royal bride Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge, and prime minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, is believed to have increased its offer for the hotel to £1.8 million.
As plans to launch one or possibly two public petitions were being discussed this week, Sir John, a long-standing resident who is chairman of The Merchant’s House Trust and vice-chairman of the Marlborough Literary Festival, produced his own blast in the campaign.
Sir John Sykes
“The demise of the Ivy House Hotel would be a huge nail in the coffin of a beleaguered High Street where there are currently several empty shops and continual sales by those still in business,” declared Sir John in a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, based in Bristol.
“Of the accommodation currently available in the town, the Ivy House has 28 bedrooms or 40 per cent of the hotel spaces, pubs providing accommodation have 24 bedrooms in total, and other bed and breakfast accommodation no more than five.”
“Marlborough entertains a huge number of visitors, especially during the summer, the vast majority of whom are day visitors but many would be happy to stay overnight if there was suitable accommodation and so would bring much-needed extra income to the town’s economy instead of pressing on to find accommodation elsewhere.”
Sir John pointed out: “I am writing to object strongly to the application by Marlborough College for change of use of the premises from hotel to school boarding house.”
“Marlborough is at the heart of a tourist area of great importance besides being a considerable attraction in its own right. It is renowned for its history, the beauty of its High Street and its cultural life.”
“The internationally known Jazz Festival recently attracted around 4,000 visitors over a weekend. The first Literary Festival held last year was applauded by speakers and audiences alike and will be bigger and even better this year. The outstanding 17th century Merchant’s House has some 2,500 visitors each year. The redundant but multi-functional St Peter’s Church has even more.”
“There is a constant round of concerts, lectures, films, even opera. But without sufficient hotel beds these venues and events reach a ceiling very quickly.”
He said that the value of Ivy House Hotel lies primarily in its central location in Marlborough High Street, adding: “This means that visitors can dine, if not at the hotel then at any of the excellent restaurants in the centre of town and do not have to abstain from drinking or hire a taxi to get to their bed for the night.”
“It has been described as a failing business but I have been reliably informed that in the recent past it has had on average an 87 per cent occupancy rate and up to 10,000 visitors each year. If there is a failure, it is one of management.” “Significantly, from comments made by over 200 visitors to the hotel over a period of six months from August 2010 to February 2011, its excellent location came out top over cleanliness, comfort, services, staff and value for money. Guests' criticisms of the latter have increased this year.”
“The fact that at least two reputable and successful hoteliers have recently, and independently of one another, shown great interest in acquiring and refurbishing the premises as a going concern, speaks for itself.”
“The case for retaining and reviving this vital town asset is obvious and the need urgent.”