Plans for Norris Castle rejected unanimously

Proposals to convert East Cowes’ historic Grade One listed Norris Castle, its outbuildings and grounds and the Springhill Estate, into a luxury hotel, resort and housing, were refused unanimously on Tuesday by the Isle of Wight Council’s planning committee.

The plans, which included a swimming pool, restaurant, wellness centre, clubhouse, 74 hotel suites, 101 resort and spa residences, and up to 105 housing units, were slated by most statutory consultees, including tree and ecology officers, National Landscape, Historic England and East Cowes Town Council. There were also 170 other objections to the planning and listed building applications, with just nine letters that either supported the proposals or were neutral.

Objections centred around the plans being inappropriate and causing harm to Norris Castle and its grounds, including ancient woodland, built around 1800 by renowned architect, James Wyatt, for Lord Henry Seymour. The applicants, Norris Castle Estate Group (NCEG), were warned in advance of buying the property in February 2016 for £4.7 million, that there was “little scope for development”. Officers had recommended refusal on 16 different grounds.

Objections raised by members of the planning committee included concerns from Cllr Geoff Brodie that there was no affordable housing, and Cllr Matthew Price who asked why a site visit had not been carried out. He was informed by officers that access had not been permitted although a future date had been offered. Other concerns raised on Tuesday included the impact on the “tranquil and unspoilt” conservation area, the Esplande and beach, damage to the sea wall, increase in traffic, and that the planned modern effect housing was completely out of character.

NCEG had applied for a 28-day delay to the decision, claiming it would give them time to address some of the points raised. On Tuesday it was unclear whether they would turn up to speak in support of the plans. They did appear with spokesmen claiming that any harm would be “less than substantial” and that their plans were viable and suggestions that they were not were “flawed”.

Claims were also made that IW Council officers had refused to meet to discuss the issues and that there was no grant aid available.

Director, Clynt Wellington, who previously suggested that the IW Council should provide £7.4 million to fund repairs to the castle, said on Tuesday that, unless the plans were approved the castle and its woodland would be lost within five years, and coastal erosion would make it uneconomic to repair. Mr Wellington was also connected to ambitious but controversial plans to convert Taymouth Castle in Scotland into a luxury resort. The plans fell apart when his company, Rebus Construction, collapsed owing more than £2.8 million.

Speaking after the meeting, East Cowes councillor, Karl Love, said: “The reason Norris Castle is in poor condition is because the developers have failed to maintain it over the last eight years to the point where the council took enforcement action.

“Every single one of us want a solution and there are many solutions available, so we look positively to the future. This has been a real team effort in representing the people of East Cowes on many fronts. Hopefully we can now move forward to try to find a viable and workable solution for this unique historic asset of our town.”

One councillor said Mr Wellington was heard saying as he left that the company would appeal the decision.