Historic land to be sold for hotel?

St Mary's Lands masterplan.

FURTHER discussions over the future of St Mary’s Lands in Warwick will take place this week as proposals for a hotel on the historic site gather pace.

Warwick Town Council is to meet on Wednesday as Warwick District Council has revealed it could sell off part of the site to push through the hotel plans.

Currently, a 1984 Act of Parliament protects the 150-acre site and while there is nothing in the act that prevents a change of use of any part of the site, it does not allow for a racecourse operating lease to be any more than 21 years.

And so the district council has said it will consider selling the land outright to the Jockey Club, which runs Warwick Racecourse, to overcome that obstacle — a move that has been met with outrage by the Friends of St Mary’s Lands.

A report to the recent WDC cabinet meeting said: “Although the terms on which it may grant Racecourse Leases are restricted, section 8 of the Act expressly records that the district council has the same powers to sell and change the use of St Mary’s Lands, including the racecourse, as it would with any of its other landholdings not within the scope of the 1984 Act.

“Accordingly, there is nothing in the 1984 Act to prevent the district council accepting a surrender from the Jockey Club of part of the land within the current Racecourse Lease and granting the Jockey Club a fresh lease in respect of the land required for the Hotel.

“Such a lease would not be a Racecourse Lease within the meaning of the 1984 Act and accordingly would not be caught by the 21 year duration limit.

“The district council could, if it was considered commercially prudent and appropriate, grant a lease of any duration for hotel purposes e.g. 99 years.

“The district council would equally have the power to make an outright sale of the land to the Jockey Club for hotel purpose if that was judged to be the most appropriate course of action.”

Members of the Friends of St Mary’s Lands will be at Warwick Town Council’s meeting on Wednesday night when councillors will discuss the issue.

Linda Bromley, secretary of the Friends, said: “Warwick Common has always been held in deep affection by generation after generation of Warwick families.

“In the past, huge outcries have opposed any plans to ‘develop’ it, ultimately resulting in an Act of Parliament on the land.

“A previous application for a hotel was opposed by a 1,200 signature petition. “Warwick people consider that these lands morally belong to them and Warwick District Council are simply the custodians.

“Is it wise to sell public land and risk widespread condemnation, especially with a local election only 18 months away?”

The Midweek reported back in June how a feasibility study commissioned by the district council indicated there was a gap in the market for an 80- to 100-bedroom hotel with car parking, and that it would not impact exiting hotels in and around the town.

Consultants, GL Hearn with Bridget Baker Consulting, also said it would create up to 80 jobs and pump around £3million a year into the local economy.

The same consultants will now draw up more detailed reports that will be taken to potential operators.

St Mary’s Lands comprises some 150 acres of open space located on the western edge of Warwick.

A masterplan designed to protect it has been drawn up over the past two years by a group that includes the Corp of Drums, Friends of St Mary’s Lands, Golf Centre, Hill Close Gardens, Warwick Race Course, Racing Club Warwick Football Club, Warwick Town Council, Warwickshire County Council and the Warwick Society.

But at their recent meeting the Friends voted unanimously against the proposals for a hotel, additional parking, changing the name, and changes to the cycle route.

The hotel proposals will be discussed at a Warwick Town Council meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6.30pm, in the Court House Ballroom, Jury Street, Warwick.

The Friends said anyone interested in its future should attend in protest and to ask questions.