A legal challenge is being considered to last months’ decision by a government planning inspector to give Marlborough College victory in its bid to take over the town’s Ivy House Hotel as a hostel for its girl students.
The sensational turn of events follows the revelation of a freedom of information application seeking details of how planning inspector Paul Jackson came to his conclusion, which allows the college to buy the hotel for an expected £1.8 million.
In doing so he overturned the views of Wiltshire Council – and those of Marlborough town council and leading local petitioners – who objected to the loss of the grade II listed hotel in Marlborough High Street.
Wiltshire and Marlborough Town Councillor Nick Fogg
Now Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott is to be quizzed by former Marlborough mayor Nick Fogg (pictured) on potentially serious breaches made by the inspector in arriving at his conclusion that deprives Marlborough of its major, 28-bed hotel.
And the situation could result in a challenge being made direct to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who appointed Mr Jackson to conduct the planning appeal.
It was suggested by Claire Perry, Marlborough’s MP, that the government’s new Localism Bill, which came into force on October 2, would sway the inspector to allow the council itself to be responsible for making a vital local decision.
But Mr Jackson made his decision just days before the Bill came into operation, infuriating Mr Fogg, an independent Wiltshire and Marlborough town councillor, and objectors who signed a Marlborough Chamber of Commerce petition.
Mr Fogg revealed the remarkable turn of events at last night’s Marlborough town council meeting when the planning appeal result was officially recorded.
He pointed out that the inspector consulted none of those involved in the case before making his decision and that only Mike Wilmott, Wiltshire’s area development manager, and Suzie Willis, representing planners DTZ on behalf of the college, were advised of the site visit he made to the hotel on September 14.
That was despite the fact that Wiltshire Council’s statement opposing the change of use had been submitted on July 18 and that 39 other opposition statements -- plus the petition -- had been submitted.
“No one who opposed the planning application was called,” Mr Fogg told surprised fellow councillors and pointed that he was now going to table a question for Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council, to answer.
It read: “Could the leader tell us of the circumstances of the site meeting that took place at the Ivy House Hotel between the government inspector, Mike Wilmott of Wiltshire Council and Suzie Willis of DTZ?
“Is she aware that no-one who was opposed to this application was invited to meet the inspector? Could she furnish whatever representations were made by Mr Wilmot on behalf of the Eastern Area Regulatory Planning Committee, which had voted to oppose this application by Marlborough College to turn the hotel into a boarding House?”
The outcome of Jane Scott’s response will be significant as to whether a legal challenge is mounted to overturn the planning appeal decision.
It is also understood that two Marlborough residents who objected to the change of use had their protest rejected because it was received out of time while another communication to the inspector supporting the chance was accepted.
“We are looking at different ways of taking this vital matter forward,” Mr Fogg, who had earlier described the loss of the Ivy House as a “disaster for the town”, told Marlborough News Online.
Paul Shimell, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is clear that there is some need for an independent inquiry into what has happened over the Ivy House Hotel.”
“That is now essential in the name of openness and accountability, which the government is demanding of all its departments and local authorities.”
The inspector decided that the conversion could proceed on the basis that the loss of the hotel “would have no effect on the number of A1 shop uses in the High Street” despite evidence that the vitality of the town would be hit by its loss.
“There would be a positive effect on income received by local businesses and an increase in wages that contribute to the local economy,” says his report.
“The vitality of the area would not be affected. The proposed development would not conflict with the aims PPS4 (a planning objective) or development plan policies and the appeal should be allowed.”
The College was reported to have been willing to pay £1.8 million for the freehold of the site, a purpose-built new girls’ hostel on its own extensive estate more likely to cost £6 million plus.
An alternative proposal that was mooted by the objectors was for the hotel to be bought by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White and turned into a boutique hotel and upmarket restaurant, the enterprise backed by investors, among them Robert Hiscox, chairman of the international insurance company, who is High Sheriff of Wiltshire.
Tourist information centres in other Wiltshire towns are being visited by members of Marlborough town council before setting out their own plans to recreate one themselves.
They are looking at the visitor centres in Amesbury, Calne, Malmesbury and outside the county in Henley before deciding on the structure of replacing Marlborough’s library-based centre closed down by Wiltshire Council in its austerity cuts.
“These centres have a lot of data that we can share,” Councillor Guy Loosmore (pictured) told the town council on Monday. “There are some possible models out there that we can adapt, but we do need to get the structure decided first.”
A report to the council highlighted three potential sites for a visitor centre – the town hall itself, which would need listed building consent, the George Lane car park toilet building and the possibility of a mobile bus, possibly a second hand red bus or coach, as a temporary expedient.
The mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, said that the council was committed to opening its own tourist centre by next May. But Councillor Andrew Ross pointed out that financing the project would be a difficulty if the council’s precept is frozen next year.
With plans already under way for a beacon on Hackpen Hill to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year, Marlborough’s deputy mayor Edwina Fogg (pictured) is now calling organisations in the town together to organise other royal celebrations.
Her takeover of the mayoralty next May coincides with Queen Elizabeth’s achievement of becoming only the second monarch in British history to spend 60 years on the throne.
Edwina wants Marlborough town council to be the catalyst for community groups to plan a week-long celebration leading up to the official four-day holiday that runs from 2nd to 5th June
And she outlined to the town council on Monday a host of ideas she hopes local groups will be inspired to organise for the unique occasion.
“We can provide the infrastructure for others to do so many things,” she said. “I want the church bells to ring, recorded cannons firing, fireworks lighting up the skies to make it a marvellous occasion.”
A few of her brain storming ideas to get people into the mood for the historic moment include a Paint your Portrait of the Queen competition for children, a recreation of the Battle of Marlborough by the English Civil War Society, a civic dinner and a Marlborough in Bloom display in the High Street.
There could be an open-air Big Lunch, an evening on the monarch in words and music at St Mary’s Church, special film shows, a lecture on the monarch at the Merchant’s House, a Marlborough fun day with a fancy dress competition for children, and the organising of a permanent memorial to Her Majesty.
“As a council we should be the catalyst for all the wonderful things that could happen,” she added. “We need to reach out and seek ideas from everyone in the community.”
Under pressure across the county over increased parking charges, Wiltshire Council has come up with some Christmas concessions as car drivers are hit by rising inflation and fuel prices.
Today (Tuesday) the council agreed to proposals which will mean Christmas shoppers pay less, charities will get help for key workers supporting vulnerable people and Blue Badge holders will get a better deal.
Cabinet member with responsibility for parking, Dick Tonge announced the following recommendations when cabinet met today:
* An extra free hour for motorists when they pay for their car parking in car parks across the county from December 19 to December 24 (inclusive). Details and a token which is needed to receive one hour’s free parking will be given in the council’s next edition of Your Wiltshire magazine due out in November.
* Service permits will be extended to include registered charities that need to load and unload vehicles and peripatetic workers who deal with vulnerable people.
* Consistent arrangements will be made for Blue Badge holders which will mean a better deal for many.
The recommendations came after the council heard evidence from a report regarding the impact of parking charge changes, which looked at various factors including the national and local economy, retail trends, the relationship between parking and market towns, and evidence from other local authorities.
It also highlighted the mixed results other authorities have had when reducing their charges and that many other factors have impacted on the UK’s high street, and indicated that there are signs that some of Wiltshire’s towns are bucking the national trend.
The report was intended to make as much evidence available as possible so an informed debate can take place at the next full council meeting on November 8.
Dick Tonge told Marlborough News Online: “All residents in Wiltshire will receive this one free hour car parking voucher when their 'Your Wiltshire' magazine drops through their door in November which will no doubt be a welcome boost for shoppers and traders in the run up to Christmas.”
“The service permits will make life easier for particular staff looking after vulnerable people working in charity shops and for those vehicles loading and unloading goods outside their premises. The changes to blue badge holders will also make them easier to use.”
The concessions will have little effect in Marlborough, which has the highest parking charges, along with Salisbury, because it is considered a well-heeled town.
Moves are still likely, under the new Localism legislation, for the town council to control parking itself.
The axe finally came down today (Thursday) on Andrew Kerr, Wiltshire Council’s chief executive in charge of an £800 million budget, who has been made redundant by the Tory-controlled council’s cabinet.
He has been in post for only 18 months, earning a salary of £183,000 a year plus perks, and claimed responsibility for saving the council £18 million as it was forced to react to the government’s austerity programme.
Some £8 million of that came from sacking 220 council officers. Now Mr Kerr himself is to follow them as the council slashes a further £500,000 from its expenditure on senior management.
Council leader Jane Scott said: “Our decision today demonstrates that we will not avoid making tough decisions if we believe that they are right for our communities. We will now focus on delivering our business plan and what is needed for the people of Wiltshire.”
“We will always do what we believe is right for Wiltshire’s communities and if it means being a radical local authority which leads the way then that is what we will be.”
The cabinet also recommended the council to agree that the service director human resources will be designated the head of paid service. Other necessary changes to the constitution will be considered by full council on November 8.
The council claims that its radical senior management shake-up underlines its commitment to protecting vital services, but it also indicates not only a major row behind the scenes between Mrs Scott and 53-yer-old Mr Kerr but a significant shift of policy that puts the politicians rather than senior officers in total management control.
Nicholas Fogg, one of Marlborough’s two Wiltshire councillors, approves of the decision to axe Mr Kerr. He objected to his “excessive salary” when he was first appointed.
“It's good that an air of reality is finally creeping in,” Mr Fogg told Marborough News Online. “If anyone is paid more than the Prime Minister at public expense, it has to be seriously justified.”
Jon Hubbard, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, pointed out that it was only in February this year that Mrs Scott had defended Kerr’s six-figure salary and claimed how important he was to the council.
“Just six months later she is disposing of him,” he added. “If he was worth it then, then what has changed since?”
A £4m budget has now been set aside to pay out for redundancies, which will include the compensation paid to Mr Kerr, the exact amount initially secret until the annual accounts are published at the end of the year.
Wiltshire’s four corporate directors – Mark Boden, Carlton Brand, Carolyn Godfrey and Sue Redmond – all declined an invitation to attend today’s meeting. Mr Kerr was away in London and out of sight as he lost his job following a two-week consultation period.
The four directors will now have to contend for just three senior posts and have been told they will not receive any extra money for taking on the extra responsibilities that will be attached to the new positions.
Mr Kerr has been surprised by his removal from office, claiming in a BBC interview: “I believe that we’ve done a very good job and I believe that the chief executive in leadership model is the best for local government.”
Marlborough may be a prosperous market town but not all its residents are rich and some are suffering from the recession and are being needlessly forgotten.
That is the grim message that has come from Marlborough’s rural dean and rector, the Rev Andrew Studdert-Kennedy (pictured), who has returned to St Mary’s from a mission in the City of London talking to rich bankers and examining the ethics of fat bonuses and pensions.
Before protesters encamped at the entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral, he was on a sabbatical working on a survey in April, May and June for the St Paul’s Institute, which has asked 515 professionals working in the financial services sector for their views.
It was done to coincide with the 25th anniversary of deregulation in the City – known as the Big Bang – and it left the rector disturbed at their acceptance that a problem existed but a refusal to consider reform.
And he found the same unacceptable response in retired bankers and City bosses he met.
“Those I saw were aware that there is public outrage but they are not very willing to do a great deal to change the outrage,” he told Marlborough News Online in an exclusive interview.
“One of the telling things is that there is this recognition that a problem exists but still resistance to change.”
“I was interested in doing this because I thought it was an area of great importance that affects practically everybody in this parish, in all parishes, but one I suspected most clergy were not sufficiently knowledgeable about and didn’t understand enough.”
“Whereas in fact it is a crisis which we have all played a part in. We really have been indulging in fantasy to think that we can have economic growth exponentially like this year on year.”
And bringing the crisis home to Marlborough, the rector was asked if there are any super rich people in the area.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he replied. “It is a very prosperous place.”
“But there is a significant side of Marlborough that is far from prosperous. There is a significant number of people who are struggling financially – and we often forget that. “People just don’t believe that because they see the High Street, the grandeur of the place and forget that there are a lot of people who life very hard going.”
“They are people who have never held down particularly well paid jobs but they are now an awful number of people I am aware of who are threatened with redundancy and are having to downsize or relocate.”
“That is terrible.”
He said he found his mission fascinating and hugely valuable partly because there was a temptation to demonise bankers in particular when in fact we were all to blame and were now witnessing threatened mass strikes over pensions when changes were now vital to society.
“The idea that you can have a 25-year paid holiday at the end of your working life is just fantasy,” he insisted. “The time has come for all of us to be honest, bankers and teachers.”
“That world is just not sustainable. We will all have to contribute more, work harder and receive less. That is because we are all living longer. The figures just don’t stack up any more.”
Following the publication of the ‘disappointing’ national unemployment figures for September, the figures by constituency have now been issued. And they show that the Devizes constituency has seen a steady increase over the past months in the number of young unemployed.
The annual increase – that’s the 2011 level compared to the same month in 2010 – in those aged twenty-four and under who are claiming job seekers allowance has risen sharply:
-- July 2011 showed an increase of 5.8 per cent over July 2010.
-- August 2011 showed an increase of 10.9 per cent over August 2010.
-- September 2011 showed an increase of 23.1 per cent over September 2010.
The actual numbers may look small and are only a tiny part of the 946,000 young employed recorded across the UK in September: in our constituency, young claimants in July numbered 275, in August 305 and in September 320.
These are not, of course, just digits in government tables, they are young people without jobs in a constituency where the level of employment has historically been very high indeed. In part this has been because a high proportion have been employed in the public sector and also that the area has a high proportion of retired people.
In the other age groups (25 to 49 and 50-plus) the number of claimants in the Devizes constituency has been falling in percentage terms over the last three months against the same months last year. But in terms of the number of claimants in the 24-49 group the figures show a very small increase from July’s 470 to September’s 500.
Overall September’s figures show the constituency’s unemployment rate has risen by just one tenth of one per cent from 2.0 to 2.1 per cent. This means that Devizes constituency has dropped seven places in the ranking table for employment. Back in April Devizes was at 623 out of 350, now it is at 611 – still making the constituency one of the forty lowest in the UK for unemployment.
Marlborough took another step forward in its bid to become a transition town devoted to seeking a sustainable future at Monday’s meeting of the town council.
At the initiative of Councillor Richard Pitts, the council unanimously adopted a motion moved by deputy mayor, Councillor Edwina Fogg, that the council too should adopt the principles and ethos of the now world-wide transition town movement.
“This council will strive to create a self-reliant Marlborough, working with its partner organisations in the town and local areas to lessen the impact of the rising costs of food, energy and transport,” it said.
“It will produce an action plan to review its budgets and services to achieve a reduction in energy costs and seek to initiate and promote a wide range of strategies for sustainability in the town.”
The move comes at a time when there are still 5.1 million households in fuel poverty in the UK and 40 per cent of homes have no loft insulation.
And it follows a public meeting in the town hall last month when 55 people decided to introduce and promote transition town values to local residents at a time when energy costs in particular have hit a peak.
But councillors did complain about some of the “jargon” words used in the campaign and urged its supporters to use simpler language more easily understood.
High Street one wayThe narrow part of the High Street that runs north of St Peter’s church will be made one-way from October 31.
The 18-month trial – first revealed by Marlborough News Online in early September – is being arranged in response to complaints from residents in the street, which is too narrow for anything but small cars to pass each other and is often used as a ‘rat run’ by drivers trying to avoid queues at the Pewsey Road mini-roundabout.
After the commencement date, drivers will only be able to use the road in a south-westerly direction – that is, from the High Street to the College.
A public notice ordering the temporary closure was issued by Wiltshire Council today (Tuesday), and suggests the scheme might be introduced indefinitely if it proves successful.
Objection to making the order indefinite can be made in writing to the council quoting reference LJB/TRO/MARLExp, but must be made within six months.
Sing-along-a-Santa will be the star attraction at Marlborough's Christmas lights switch on event this year.
Father Christmas will be leading children in sing-alongs of festive favourites throughout the We Love Christmas event, organised by We Love Marlborough. The event will be held at the newly-refurbished Town Hall between 3pm and 8pm on Thursday, November 24.
The Town Hall will offer a host of seasonal attractions in the warm and dry. The popular Christmas gift art market – where artists and crafts people sell original and affordable Christmas gifts – has expanded over two floors for the first time in its three-year history.
Santa – when he isn't leading little ones in a sing-song – will be in his beautifully-decorated grotto, taking early gift orders. Hot food and drink will be served, giving parents the chance to chill out – or get warm – while children entertain themselves on the free crafts tables.
Marlborough Christmas LightsMarlborough's Christmas lights display, organised and funded by Marlborough Town Council, will be switched on at 7pm by the town's Citizen of the Year – whose identity is revealed on the night – and the winners of the children's choir competition, which will be held at neighbouring St Mary's Church from 5pm to 6.45pm.
And many of the town's shops will be keeping their doors open until 8pm, as part of the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Late Night Shopping season, which takes place on We Love Christmas night and then every Thursday until December 22.
Louisa Davison of We Love Marlborough said: “We wanted to offer families an event that would last from school or nursery finish until after the lights are switched on. Father Christmas is really hectic from 6.45pm to 8pm, so come down early and beat the queue.”
Marlborough Town Hall in lightsPaul Shimell, president of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, said: “We Love Christmas promises to be a fantastic platform from which to launch Christmas shopping season in Marlborough.
“Our late night shopping events give busy people the chance to shop for Christmas presents out of work hours and in a relaxed atmosphere.”
And Richard Pitts of Marlborough Town Council said: “We see the Christmas lights as a vital part of our street scene in the shortest days of the year.
"We know this event encourages people as far away as Bristol and Swindon to come to the town enjoy the festive mood and and shop until they drop in one of many restaurants and pubs. We sincerely hope all will come and enjoy the fun of the Christmas lights switch on!”
We Love Christmas is organised by We Love Marlborough, a not-for-profit organisation putting art at the heart of the town, and supported by Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and David Dudley jewellers.
For updates and event times, look out for leaflets during November or watch out for updates on Marlborough News Online.