Angry officials at Warwick Castle said the council’s decision to refuse permission for lodges and tree-houses in its grounds has left them ‘considering their position’ in the town.
Warwick District Council’s planning committee, heard from town and county councillor John Holland, who told them: “This is not Legoland!” They unanimously decided to vote against the castle’s application for holiday homes.
This was despite council officers recommending acceptance of the application to use part of the wooded grounds known as Foxes Study to build up to 12 semi-detached lodges and five permanent tree houses for holidaymakers.
In addition glamping, the up-market camping, was to be extended.
In a scathing attack after the plans were refused, castle manager Geoff Spooner said: “We are extremely disappointed and shocked at the committee’s decision which appears not to have taken into account either the strong recommendation and support of district planning officers and other and interested and affected parties. More than that, in making this decision the planning committee has demonstrated its complete lack of understanding of commercial reality, and of the economic importance of the castle in Warwick and the surrounding area.
“Unfortunately the current (committee) members have only ever seen the castle vibrant and successful and have forgotten that when it was sold by the Greville family in 1978 it was in a serious state of disrepair, and it is only since entering private ownership that £26 million has been invested specifically in restoring the castle to its present condition; £7 million of it since Merlin took over in 2007.
“It is this investment that has kept it viable and relevant. None of this would be possible however, without the castle being commercially successful in a very competitive market. This is simple fact, not something for debate.
“We therefore make no apologies for continuing to look for new ways to drive visits, particularly from younger people who have many other interests and options. Indeed we are proud of what has been achieved but the decision today clearly shows no equal commitment to the long-term future of the castle from the district and we will now need to consider our position.”
But Cllr Holland (Lab, Warwick West), who was allowed to address the meeting on behalf of the town council, said: “Questions need to be asked about how planning officers allowed this application to get to this stage, let alone be recommended for approval.
“Warwick Castle is not Legoland. This whole site is Grade I listed, including the whole of the castle park on both sides of the river.
“I believe castle managers have been poorly advised. We in Warwick know our visitor economy depends on the unique history of the castle and anything that damages our historic buildings is clearly working against our town centre economy.”
More than 60 letters of objection were submitted to the district council and the plans were also rejected by five votes to one by the town council and ten to one by the district’s conservation area forum.
As a parting olive branch, Cllr Holland told the planning committee that town councillors had enjoyed an excellent relationship with castle managers in the past and hoped they could now work together to come up with a way forward.