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Marlborough loses out in the battle to halt College’s Ivy House Hotel takeover

The battle save Marlborough’s grade II listed Ivy House Hotel from being taken over by Marlborough College as a hostel for its girl students has apparently been lost.

Staff at the iconic High Street hotel have been told that their employment will end on January 10, indicating that the College has  completed its controversial contract to buy the 28-room hotel and convert it.

Confirmation is awaited from the College, which only days ago declared that it was not running rough shod over the town and does understand the local sensitivities.

The comment came from Sir Hayden Phillips, chairman of the College council, who also declared that he was unaware of “any impropriety on anyone’s part” in the planning process, which has resulted in a government planning inspector giving the College the go ahead.

He made his response to sustained criticism over the loss of one of Marlborough’s two hotels in a letter to retired solicitor Sir John Sykes, one of more than 30 residents who opposed the change of use consent granted for the £1.8 million takeover project.

But that is not the view of Wiltshire and Marlborough town councillor Nick Fogg, who led the campaign against the loss of the hotel and is continuing to raise issues over the planning process with Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott.

“This is a blow to the town of Marlborough,” Councillor Fogg, twice Mayor of Marlborough, told Marlborough News Online.  “The two economic reports that were commissioned by Wiltshire Council demonstrated the vital contribution this hotel makes to the town's well-being.”

“The inspector on the case does not appear to have read them, or even to have heard about them.  The fact that the clear views of the local planning committees, the Chamber of Commerce and a large number of local inhabitants were not considered flies in the face of localism.”

“Possibly on grounds of economy, none of these people were permitted to put their case.  The cutbacks have dealt a real blow to the democratic process.  Getting rid of the Inspectorate altogether and putting decisions right back in the hands of elected representatives would ensure a fairer outcome and save even more money.”

And he was supported by retired company director Gordon Olson, who has yet to receive all the Freedom of Information requests he has made to Wiltshire, in particular the emails of its planning officer Mike Wilmott.

Mr Olson, whose two sons were both students at the College, told Marlborough News Online:  "The objectors were on the back foot from the moment the planning inspector's decision flew in the face of Marlborough town council, Wiltshire Council, 30 local objectors, including the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, and the independent economic impact reports.”

“The appeal was decided without the objectors being given a hearing and its outcome was a huge surprise to us.  We can only speculate what might have happened if Wiltshire Council had turned down the application to convert the Ivy House in the first place, rather than finding itself being a late-coming objector at the planning appeal.”

Sir Hayden, a retired former top civil servant, appeared to be unaware that Wiltshire Council is under pressure to reveal the answers to questions involving Mike Wilmott, its own planning officer, whose original recommendation to allow the hotel change of use was rejected by Wiltshire’s area planning committee.

Sir John Sykes, chairman of Marlborough’s Merchant’s House, had written to the Rt Rev Nick Holtam, the new Bishop of Salisbury, who is ex official president of the College’s council, and Sir Hayden, who lives in Mildenhall, decided to answer the letter himself.

“I can assure you that College is very conscious of its relationship with the town and the community of Marlborough,” replied Sir Hayden. “There has been throughout the life of the College, a very constructive engagement between the two communities.”

“The College is of course itself a major employer of people, who live in the town and surrounding district.  There is no doubt that the fact the College is in Marlborough has an added value impact on the economy of the town.”

“It is therefore with considerable sadness that I find that controversy has arisen in relation to the College’s proposed purchase of the Ivy House.”

“At no stage has the College made any attempt to ride rough shod over local sensitivity.”

He pointed out that the College has an “ever growing demand for additional boarding house for girls” and reveals that various options were considered before a bid was made for the hotel, though he fails to mention whether that included building on the College’s own extensive campus.

He insisted that since the College entered into a conditional contract with the hotel’s owners a year ago it was bound by that contract to go ahead with the purchase once planning consent had been granted.

Sir Hayden said that the planning inspector made “a comprehensive decision, including the question of economic impact,” despite claims that two independent economic assessment reports were withheld from him.

“I fully understand the concerns of those who object to our plan,” he added.  “However, the College has been contractually bounded to buy the Ivy House since a year ago subject only to the appropriate planning permission being obtained.”

“The planning process is a democratic one and at that very thorough.  I am not aware of any impropriety on anyone’s part and I hope the College on the one hand, and those in the town who object to our plan, will readily continue to work well together in the mutual interest of both communities.”

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  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-
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  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters