An application has been made for a major redevelopment at Norris Castle in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Norris Castle has a Grade I registered landscape (RPG) and sits within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is flanked by the grounds of Osborne Castle (registered at Grade II*) and the Springhill Estate. The Gardens Trust has lodged a strong objection to the proposals, which we regard as a harmful overdevelopment of this highly significant and largely unaltered historic designed landscape.
The developer proposes to do the following:
Historic England said: “Norris Castle is of outstanding importance as a particularly beautiful and unusually well-preserved picturesque ensemble of house, landscape and ancillary buildings. The current proposals would entail a very high degree of harm to its significance.” They regard the scheme as a “very inefficient means of raising the money necessary to repair the buildings” as the developer’s profit (around £22 million) and development costs are out of all proportion to the estimated repair costs of £16.55 million. Historic England anticipate objecting to the proposals, but are awaiting additional information, including an independent assessment of the viability of the proposed scheme, before issuing their definitive advice.
There are significant problems with the proposal in terms of increased vehicle access to the site, the scale and position of the substantial housing developments, the plans for the conversion of Norris Castle and farmstead and the impact on its Grade I-designated parkland.
In the planning response from the Gardens Trust, Conservation Officer Margie Hoffnung pointed out the exceptional historic significance of the site. The Springhill and Norris Castle estates represent a substantial area of virtually untouched landscape recognised for its picturesque views, especially to and from the Solent and Spithead, for at least the past 200 years. Norris Castle also has significant “group value as the castle, model farm and designed landscape create an extremely fine example of Picturesque landscape style, crucially remarkably unchanged since its creation around 1799…[The] ornamental pleasure grounds and park are likely to be have been laid out by Humphry Repton, as a landscaped setting for a marine villa built in the form of a Gothic castle designed by James Wyatt, and a castellated model farm following the traditions of a ferme ornée.”
We welcome the restoration proposals, which include work on the listed buildings, walled garden, parkland, the opening of vistas and management of the woodland. However, given the significance of Norris Castle and Springhill, our response particularly highlighted the following issues with the application:
Margie Hoffnung concludes that the proposals fail to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework: “the development within Norris Castle estate will so change the character of the RPG that future generations will no longer be able to appreciate its contribution to the quality of life as originally designed.” Nor does the development “make a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness”. In particular, the cumulative harm of the plans “is particularly high given the significance of the historic assets affected as an ensemble. It is the degree of harm to the asset’s significance as a whole rather than the scale of the individual areas of development that we feel should be considered.”
While we want to see a solution for the problems of Norris Castle, the current proposals, in our opinion, are not the answer.
View of Norris Castle from the sea Credit: Mark Pilbeam, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons