FOXES STUDY 2 September 2015
A new application, and an appeal against the refusal of last year’s, for wooden lodges, a banqueting hall, and other buildings in the wood has attracted a lot of attention in The Courier and other media.
We do not repeat here the arguments summarised in the Society’s Annual Report for 2014, but consider some of the questions raised in the recent debate.
Is the Castle a Theme Park? Yes, Merlin’s Annual Report puts it under that heading.
Is the provision of accommodation essential to the Castle’s financial survival? No, Merlin is a very capable and profitable company. The proportion that the lodges would add to its worldwide cash flow would be just 0.01%.
Wouldn’t the lodges be good for the town? Merlin’s strategy is to prolong visitors’ stay and increase their spending on-site. The benefit of the lodges, mainly to nearby pubs and restaurants, would be slight.
Why deny Warwick’s businesses that chance? The planning balance is clear: there is not enough economic benefit to outweigh the harm which would be done to a landscape of national significance.
Why does the Chamber of Trade disagree? You must ask the Chamber that. But there seems to be a surplus of anecdote and assertion and no hard evidence. It is of great regret that this gap divides us.
The Society’s Committee is considering an objection to the application. Members will be able to express their views on it at our meeting on Tuesday 8 September.
Confusion arises from the overlap between the new application and the appeal against last year’s refusal. The latter will not be dealt with till next spring, with a November deadline for further comments.
The urgent one is the new application, with the WDC reference W/15/1203. Full details are on the Council’s website. The deadline for objections (or support), via the website or by real letters, is Friday 11 September.
Application W14/1293, Foxes Study, Warwick Castle, Grade I Registered Landscape
The Warwick Society objects to both the full and the outline parts of this planning application. The grounds of its objection are:
1. Warwick Castle Park, of which Foxes Study is part, is a heritage asset of the highest significance.
It is one of only 142 such landscapes in England, with the same status and protection as Grade I listed buildings. Warwick Castle Park is of similar significance to landscapes at, for example, Stowe and Blenheim, and to buildings like York Minster and St Pancras railway station. Permitting substantial harm to this part of the Castle Park would be the equivalent of approving irreparable damage to such buildings and landscapes.
The NPPF imposes a very clear requirement on the Council to conserve the Park1: When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a
designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation.
As heritage assets are irreplaceable, any harm or loss should require clear and convincing justification.
Substantial harm to or loss of designated heritage assets of the highest significance, notably … grade I and II* registered parks and gardens … should be wholly exceptional.
The Park is a vital element in the setting of the Castle itself, also Grade I listed, and damage to that setting would also require exceptional justification.
The application’s Heritage and Landscape Assessment uses the register description selectively and understates the significance of the site and the impact of the proposal on the Park as a whole.
Warwick Castle Park was the first major work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and Foxes Study was the continuation of his landscape planning later in the eighteenth century. Landscapes are slow to grow and evolve, and are rarely the work of one designer, rather the cumulative effort of many. It was planted as a calm, shaded area of woodland for riding and walking in, and to enclose the south-west corner of the Park, in contrast to the wide, sweeping vistas of the parts of the Park on the other side of the river.
It plays a very important rôle in the setting of the Castle itself. In particular, Foxes Study closes to the west the view from the Orangery down the Pageant Field to the widened Avon, balancing the Castle itself on the other side of that vista. Damage to Foxes Study would unbalance that view, and directly worsen the setting of the Castle as well as the rest of the Park.
2. The proposal would cause substantial harm to the landscape.
It would have an immediate severely damaging visual impact on the woodland in which it is proposed to site holiday lodges. They would replace the calm woodland and its understorey with cabins and walkways, lit at night. While the lodges might be attractive on their own, or to any of us a place to stay in, they would make a drastic change to the character of this landscape.
In the longer term, the effect on the ecology of the woodland would be to cause permanent damage to the trees and to their regeneration, leading eventually to their complete loss. Woodland is a single eco-system, from under the trees’ roots to above their canopy. Disrupting that system, by varying the distribution and infiltration of rainfall, by elimination of the lower-level plants, and by disrupting the activities, feeding and breeding cycles of animals, birds and insects, damages the whole of it. Human habitation, movement and lighting, as well as the lodges, tents and walkways, would prevent the natural activity on which the health, survival and regeneration of the trees depends.
The application suggests2 that clearance during this century and ‘glamping’ have reduced the significance of the woodland. It has been poorly maintained for some years, and has been damaged by the introduction of ‘glamourous camping’ tents, and of fencing and pathways without the required planning permission being sought or granted for them. But the NPPF, at para 130, makes it clear that deterioration in condition is not a justification for further damaging change3.
The impact of the development would in both the immediate future and, more importantly, in the long term, significantly worsen key elements the landscape and its historic significance, and the setting of the Castle. It thus breaches the NPPF requirement not to cause substantial harm4.
4. The assertion that the net income of the proposal is essential to continue maintenance expenditure on Warwick Castle is spurious.
Merlin operates 99 attractions worldwide. Warwick Castle is the only one installed in a historic building. The company’s earnings have grown by more than 10% per year since 2008. In 2013 its net cash inflow from operating activities was £364m5. Like any other owner of a listed building, Merlin has an obligation to maintain the Castle. Clearly a well-managed business, it already has the financial resources to do so. Augmenting them is not an exceptional circumstance which justifies substantial harm to the Park.
5. The proclaimed economic benefits to the town and region are not supported by any convincing analysis, and are balanced by loss of amenity to residents.
The proposal would clearly have some effect on expenditure, income and economic activity. But no evidence is provided for this, just assertions. Merlin’s business strategy is, unsurprisingly, to maximise the length of stay and the level of expenditure of its visitors. One of the cited advantages of the lodges is that they would allow visitors to pass the night as well as the day within the Castle estate. Most – and the main target market is families with young children – enthralled but tired by one day in the Castle, will wish to conserve their energy for a second, not set out on an expedition into the town. Some will do so, and will find restaurants and pubs that they appreciate. But the conflict between the Castle’s interest and that of town businesses means that there is little evidence of the real scale of their expenditure.
Set against that gain, the proposal would harm the amenity of neighbouring residents. The development of housing on the town side of the Castle estate, mainly in the 1960s, provided high quality housing with the advantage of a setting largely undisturbed at night. This calm would be replaced by a holiday camp atmosphere. The most significant economic activity in Warwick town centre is not the ‘evening economy’ but residential use. So this loss of amenity represents an economic loss which reduces the net effect of any benefit.
Even if the economic benefits were both substantiated and substantial, they would not outweigh the damage inflicted on the registered landscape, nor provide the exceptional circumstance required by the NPPF.
It is extraordinary that English Heritage has, in failing to object to the proposal, not appreciated either the significance of Foxes Study or the harm that would be done to it. Its attitude appears to be one of compliance with the false assertion that a need to fund the maintenance of the Castle creates an exceptional case for change. But English Heritage explicitly notes no such exceptional cause, simply assents. We believe that its internal arrangements, at a time of great change in its organisation, have mistakenly prevented a proper appraisal.
If the Council is any doubt about the weight of the responsibility which falls upon it in considering drastic change to a landscape of national significance, it should refuse the application. This would allow its determination, should the applicant appeal, by a Planning Inspector informed by more expert witnesses than may be available to the Council. This would ensure that a matter of national significance was decided nationally, and eliminate the risk that the Council could be seen as not itself appreciating or protecting the significance of Warwick Castle Park.
We would be grateful if you would communicate this objection to members of the Planning Committee, asking them to refuse the application.
James Mackay, Chairman The Warwick Society
1 NPPF Paragraph 132 reads in full:
‘When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation. The more important the asset, the greater the weight should be. Significance can be harmed or lost through alteration or destruction of the heritage asset or development within its setting. As heritage assets are irreplaceable, any harm or loss should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of a grade II listed building, park or garden should be exceptional. Substantial harm to or loss of designated heritage assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly exceptional.’
2 Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners’ Heritage and Landscape Assessment, page 28, para 7.11.
3 NPPF Planning Practice Guidance: Paragraph 014 reads:
Should the deteriorated state of a heritage asset be taken into account in reaching a decision on an application?
Disrepair and damage and their impact on viability can be a material consideration in deciding an application. However, where there is evidence of deliberate damage to or neglect of a heritage asset in the hope of making consent or permission easier to gain the local planning authority should disregard the deteriorated state of the asset …
4 NPPF Planning Practice Guidance: Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment, para 017. 5 Merlin Entertainments plc Annual Report and Accounts 2013, page 89.