WARWICK Castle will never become a ‘theme park’ under the care of the current owners.
So says General Manager Geoff Spooner responding to criticism following Merlin Entertainments’ push for more on-site accommodation after two successful years running glamping.
Merlin is appealing Warwick District Council’s refusal to build 20 wooden lodges and five tree houses in the castle grounds, alongside the 41 medieval-style glamping tents at £300 a night – which this summer attracted 14,500 guests.
But critics, including the Warwick Society, say the Foxes Study area of the grounds earmarked for the lodges – across the river from the castle – is an historic and ecological sensitive landscape.
Mr Spooner, who has been in charge at the castle since 2013, said: “The lodges are entirely removable and it will be easy to restore the land to what it was. The whole point of putting them in the woods was for the surroundings to be part of the experience.
“Staff will re-populate the vegetation that has been removed over the last 15 to 20 years but are not demolishing the landscape for the accommodation.”
And Mr Spooner was adamant the Grade I castle was not and would not become a theme park. He said Merlin was well aware of its responsibility as caretakers of Britain’s best preserved medieval castle.
It is a fine balancing act. There has been praise for the new Time Tower exhibit, telling the castle’s 1,100 year history complete with Harry Potter-like talking portraits, but criticism of cruise-liner style photographing of visitors in the Kingmaker exhibition.
Mr Spooner said the castle was good for the local economy, including through overnight stays like glamping.
He told The Observer: “Nobody should be under any illusion that accommodation at the castle anything but fundamental for us in going forwards which helps us to further invest in restoration of the castle and also helps us to support the town and the events we hold.”
“Warwick is a foodie town. We provide everyone with breakfast and then they have the option of where they eat in the evening.”
And Mr Spooner added since Merlin took a long lease on the castle in 2007 the number of staff employed has increased by a third to 150, while also using local suppliers and contractors
He also stressed it was important not to just assume visitors would just keep coming to the castle, pointing out there were lots of attractions across the country which encourage visitors to spend more than just a day by providing accommodation.
And the castle has found support from the town for the bid to build the lodges.
Warwick Chamber of Trade chairman Sue Butcher said: “We are fully in support of the planning application and think it will bring even more economic benefit to Warwick.
“Encouraging visitors to stay overnight means more people will take the time to come into Warwick. It would be great to see that benefit for businesses all year round.”