Controversy at the Castle

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The Duchy of Lancaster website has set forth a controversial proposal for the future of Lancaster Castle, which would not only transform the Castle into a multi-functioning building, but would also boost economy and local tourism.

The website states that “new uses will include administrative facilities for the Duchy of Lancaster, a visitor attraction, a boutique hotel and arts and performance spaces.” For some, these plans are controversial, as the plans may well threaten the historical integrity of the building.

Sophie Parker and Jack Perry of Bailrigg FM interviewed Paul Clarke, the CEO and Clerk of the Duchy Council, to discuss the plans and address the issues of preserving historical integrity. Paul Clarke stated that the heritage of the castle has been taken into careful consideration, and “to that end, we have worked closely with our heritage consultants and various stakeholders to draw up a series of proposals which will both protect and promote the castle in the future.”

Despite these assurances  a group created by students of Lancaster University is currently circulating on Facebook, entitled ‘Save Lancaster Castle’. Lee Dickson, a history student at Lancaster University and a supporter of the cause, argued that “if these plans are fulfilled, public use would be diminished, not to mention the historical value of the castle”. Although he admitted that the proposed plans may be beneficial in the short term with regards to boosting the economy and increasing tourism, “its collective heritage value will be lost to something as superficial as a hotel.”

The official plans, entitled the ‘Lancaster Castle Consultation’, which can be found on the Lancaster Castle website, state that “The Keep also contains two large halls which would make ideal function rooms for weddings, lectures, conferences and banqueting” as well as “two special ‘Royal Suites.” Furthermore, Clarke proposed that “the rooms [for the boutique hotel] will be in the cells”, but for many, the changing of such features may be an upsetting process which would compromise the heritage of the Castle, particularly the Keep, which dates back to the 12th century.

Dickson pointed out that “some [of the cells] have hardly been altered in over 200 years”. Clarke did recognise, however, that certain aspects of the Castle must remain intact, as “the building is recognised as not only being of national importance but of international importance” – thus, maintaining its history and character is a crucial factor in the planning process. Therefore key features such as the dungeons would remain untouched, and “they will be part of the heritage area recognised as an important area of the Castle”.

According to the official website, “research indicates that there is currently demand for more hotel space in Lancaster… the hotel, as planned, would provide 62 rooms, supporting the city’s tourism strategy.” Clarke mentioned that there are currently only two hotels of high quality in the area, compared to Canterbury, a town of similar size which provides much more tourist accommodation. Having the hotel in the Castle opens up many opportunities, and the press release says that the plans would be “making the most of Lancaster Castle’s potential as a powerful new tourist attraction, and providing a boost to the local economy”. On top of this, Clarke emphasised that the Castle is “an expensive building to maintain”, and therefore it is necessary to generate tourism and custom in order for the castle to continue to survive.

There could also be some positive implications for Lancaster University and its students. Clarke mentioned that he has been consulting with the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Mark Smith, in order to discuss the possibility of the university becoming a partner of the development. Clarke hopes to incorporate the use of the courts within the castle with our law department; not only benefiting students but also providing an open area for people to view and understand how the courts work.

The important thing to remember with regards to these plans is that nothing is yet set in stone. The website stresses that “this public consultation is the first part of a long process and it could be several years before any or all of the proposals come to fruition”. Dickson stressed that “the public has always been at the heart of the castle throughout the ages”, and therefore in deciding the future of the Castle the people deserve a say. Furthermore, Clarke stressed that one of the goals in converting the castle is to “integrate [the Castle] back in the city so that is part of the city, as opposed to having always been separate and inaccessible”. He also insisted that the public are not only welcome to voice their opinions on the project, but they are encouraged to do so, as all feedback will be reviewed and analysed as part of the process.

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