Gauntlet is thrown down to Warwick Castle plans

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Warwick Castle’s plans to build 20 holiday lodges and five tree houses in its 
surrounding woodland have received fresh criticism.

At a planning committee meeting this week, town councillors voted against the plans.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has also raised concerns about the proximity of the proposed development to the River Avon’s flora and fauna, and pointed out that a bat survey of the wooded area, known as Foxes Study, had not yet been carried out.

Objections are also expected from Warwick Tree Wardens, the Warwick Society, Save Warwick, the town’s Natural History Society and several local residents.

The matter will go before the district’s planning committee next month, who will have the final say.

Warwick resident Veronica Hyland had even written to Prince Charles to bring the matter to his attention.

She received a response from his private secretary explaining that the prince hoped she would not be too disappointed to learn that he could not take sides on the issue.

Originally Merlin Entertainments, which owns the castle, said they would need to taken down 11 trees and perhaps prune up to 18 others in the woodland. But it seems that only six trees would now need to be felled to make room for the lodges.

Castle manager Geoff Spooner said he was very disappointed by the lack of support from the town council, particularly as there had been no adverse comments from English Heritage or Natural England.

Mr Spooner believes the lodges and tree houses would add to the up-market camping, or glamping, which has been offered over the past two summers, without incident, and considered a success in attracting more holidaymakers to visit Warwick, boosting the town’s as well as the castle’s economy.

A full impact assessment on effect on the landscape of glamping, including its effect on wildlife, is due before the end of the year.

Some town councillors believed the main problem was the number of lodges being suggested was far too many.

But Sarah Ridgeway, chairman of the voluntary Warwick Tree Wardens group, called on Merlin to think again.

She said turning Foxes Study into a “hotel” was not the way forward. Mrs Ridgeway added: “I’m sorry that the castle finds it necessary to despoil an area of natural beauty.

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“Merlin have, in the past, done much to be proud of, but the environmental and conceptional implications of this proposal are very worrying.

“As a business, they obviously need to finance the maintenance of the Castle, but as custodians of a piece of our national heritage, they also have an obligation to protect and enhance it...the balance has swung too far in the wrong direction.”

Mr Spooner said: “We believe this is an excellent scheme that will not only add a new and exciting dimension to the castle but also that the proposal is both in keeping with the site, the castle and the community and will have minimum impact on the heritage landscape.”

There had been a high level of support from some businesses and residents, added Mr Spooner who said: “We are very aware of the importance of the castle and its woodland setting and our responsibilities towards it. That responsibility is integral to all our planning.

“Merlin has continuously invested millions of pounds in restoring and mainting the fabric of the castle, somewhich which we believe no one else could, or would have done.

“Our objective in this has always been to create a unique balance of historical authenticity and entertainment, making a visit equally relevant and attractive to history fans, and just as importantly families who might not normally visit such a building - all of whom leavie knowing a little more of this country’s fascinating past. We make no apologies for that.”