Analysis: Tottenham House development - a win-win decision for Wiltshire CouncilPlanning permission for the restoration of Tottenham House, turning it from a school building to a private home,and the development of the surrounding estate has been signed-off by Wiltshire Councillors and now awaits the final say-so of planning officials - reliant on some on-going negotiations with the owner.
The owner's aim is to turn the house and its surrounding estate into a family home for a very, very rich buyer. The development has been carried out on the basis that to run the house and estate, the owner will need to find an annual budget of some £3.1million - of which £1.7million will be spent on the necessary 69 permanent staff (48 full time and 21 part time.)
The other £1.4million will be spent on "...supplies such as heating oil/gas, maintenance of CCTV and alarms, TV and audio, maintenance and upgrade of IT systems, vehicle and aircraft maintenance and repairs [plans include a helipad and hangar], dog, pheasant, horse and pet food, veterinary, pheasant poults, beaters, plants, seeds and bulbs, fencing and lighting, food, cleaning and household supplies, flowers, window cleaning, swimming pool and spa maintenance..."
The plans before the Eastern Planning Committee included 785 documents (though some are duplicates). Councillors "...congratulated the applicants for the detail and depth of the proposals, recognising the exceptional nature of the estate and the need to arrest the decline of the heritage assets. It was considered clear that the proposals would provide benefits to the estate and county as a whole."
That was all a bit odd as the reasoning behind at least six of the most important conditions voted in June by Councillors was that the planning "...application contained insufficient information to enable this matter to be approved in advance...". The developers have to negotiate with the Council how they can meet those conditions.
Councillors Mark Connolly and Nick Fogg moved that the final decision be delegated to council officers to grant planning permission subject to agreement on 31 incomplete conditions.
Councillors were so pleased with their decision that "At the request of the Committee it was noted that the decision was unanimous." The final approval was supposed to be made by August 24, but is still outstanding - we must suppose this is only while negotiations continue.
So far just one of conditions has been discharged - with details on the Council's planning website. The developers will have an archaeologist on site while the construction is underway of the security post and gates on Column Ride - an area expected to have some Roman remains.
Unsurprisingly, Marlborough Town Council offered no objection to the plans. However, several of the surrounding parish council's made pertinent points about the plans and the likely impact on their constituents.
The minutes of the Eastern Planning Committee meeting (on June 14) say: "Members of the public then had the opportunity to present their views to the Committee, as detailed above." But 'above' there is no mention of these views.
Indeed it seems that the views of people living on and near the estate have been almost totally ignored. Matters such as water pressure (already low in the villages), the amount of water taken from aquifers for the new lake, use of farm tracks for construction traffic and the much increased traffic on surrounding and often narrow road, have been passed over or left to dense reports from experts.
So why has Wiltshire Council bent over backwards to get these plans approved and under way? First, it will solve at a stroke the Council's mandatory responsibility for ensuring the proper upkeep of historic listed buildings - Tottenham House, the historically important stables [photo at right] and other heritage buildings - all of which the Council has allowed to deteriorate really badly.
The new homes Wiltshire Council is permitting to be built on the estate - some for staff - will of course bring on-going Council Tax income and may bring some of the government's diminishing New Homes Bonus payments. And the Council will claim to be bringing jobs to the area - though there is nothing to stop the new owners bringing all their staff with them.
The developer will have to pay Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) on the development and a Section 106 payment will be negotiated to support the extra school places needed for the new homes. This is a one-off payment - so will not help with extra continuing schooling costs.
It is unclear why the Council have not insisted on a similar Section 106 agreement to improve the local, narrow roads by creating proper passing places - especially in face of heavy traffic delivering the annual £1.4 million worth of supplies and services. And no 106 money has been required for extra health service requirements.
It is obvious that the Council's major share of the CIL money will not be spent in the area.
The conditions placed on the developer - as approved by Councillors - are considered to be in draft form until signed off by the Council officer charged by the Planning Committee to make the final decisions.
The most interesting of the conditions on this vast and complex plan are the precedent setting restrictions on occupation of the new homes. Mostly they must be occupied by people directly connected to the House - staff or former staff or their families.
These restrictions have been imposed because "The site is in an area where residential development for general occupation is not normally permitted..." - making permission for any new housing unusual to say the least.
This should set a positive precedent: why, for example, would the need for social housing in an area not be considered as a similarly sound reason to restrict future occupation of sold off and re-developed social housing which is then put on the open market?
As an example Wiltshire Council could (should?) have looked more closely at the planning permission they gave for the nine flats now being created from the former social housing at Moffat House in the London Road. At the very least the Council could have restricted these new units to occupancy by people living or having lived in the area rather than allowing their sale to, for example, weekenders.
Marlborough is, after all, an area with not enough social housing.
The elephant stalking its way through this maze of planning documents, is the fact that the house and its surrounding estate will remain private - closed to public view. It will rank with the Marlborough Mound (known as Silbury's Little Sister which stands in the College's private grounds) as another of the area's lost tourist attractions.
Indeed even the distant view of Tottenham House from Savernake Road will soon be largely obscured for tourists by the gates and turrets of the estate's new security infrastructure. Tottenham House and other heritage sites within the estate may be renovated and conserved to the highest spec, but no one beyond the new owners will ever see the results.
It is when this kind of development is allowed that we can, in general terms, register the true value of the National Trust, and in particular, be grateful we have access to walk in Savernake Forest.
FOOTNOTE: There are rumours that Tottenham House and the estate has been pre-sold to a billionaire, possibly one from Malaysia. Marlborough.news has been unable to confirm or deny this rumour.