Ivy House row explodes with allegations of bias against planning inspector
A formal complaint alleging bias by the planning inspector who granted Marlborough College change of use consent for the grade II listed Ivy House Hotel to be used as a hostel for its girl students was made yesterday (Monday).
It was sent to the Planning Inspectorate, based at Bristol, by retired company director Gordon Olson, who sent his two sons to Marlborough College, in the latest explosive move to prevent the loss of the town’s biggest and best hotel.
And it comes in the wake of Mr Olson obtaining Freedom of Information copies of the documentation considered by planning inspector Paul Jackson in rejecting major opposition to consent being granted, including that of Wiltshire Council and Marlborough town council.
“I wish to make the following points which I believe are, prima facie, clear evidence of bias in favour of the appellants to the detriment of the case made by some 30 objectors,” declares Mr Olson in a five-point protest to the Planning Inspectorate.
The opposition also included that of Robert Hiscox, chairman of the international insurance company and High Sheriff of Wiltshire, who offered to invest in buying the 28-bedroom hotel, which offers luxurious double bedrooms at £95 a night on its website.
“Marlborough is an incredibly attractive town which desperately needs hotels,” he wrote. “The Ivy House could be made into a destination for food and accommodation and become a great asset to the town and the surrounding area.”
Josephine Ball, former owner of the Ivy House from 1984 to 2001 before selling it when her husband died, declared that the hotel had always been a viable, profitable business when managed correctly.
Comments by the current owner that no money had been spent on it for 20 to 25 years were “completely untrue” and, she added: “The Ivy House must remain as a hotel and restaurant. It’s a wonderful business and a great asset to the town and has been for the last 75 years.”
Mr Olson concentrates on the fact that the inspector rejected a late submission by two nearby residents, Pauline and Roger Smith, who live in River Park, pointing out “all the parties involved in an appeal have a responsibility to meet the deadlines set” yet he subsequently accepted “two further late submissions from the appellant’s consultants, DTZ.”
DTZ is the London estate agency whose member of staff, Suzie Willis, represented the College in the planning application and appeal proceedings.
“These two late submissions should not have been sought nor should they have been considered in the appeal process,” protests Mr Olson, who lives in St Martins, Marlborough. “They should have been rejected on the grounds that the deadlines set had been passed.”
He also complains that one late submission, which runs to seven pages plus six pages of appendices, not only restates the College’s case in detail but also contains “extensive unfavourable commentary” on the public remarks made by Nicholas Fogg, twice mayor of Marlborough, who is both a Wiltshire and Marlborough town councillor.
But Mr Olson insists that that Mr Fogg’s views were “made in his private capacity and should not have been made available to the appellants or their consultants.”
Another vital point Mr Olson makes is that the inspector involved only Suzie Willis and Wiltshire’s area planning officer Mike Wilmott on his site visit to the hotel, no other representative of any objector being invited to be present.
Mr Olson told Marlborough News Online: “Since the High Court is normally where these matters are resolved, that is maybe where this matter will end up.”
Peter Bryan, director of corporate resources and deputy master of the College, commented: “The College has acted with customary care throughout this process. Proper professional advice has been taken at all times.”