Blenheim may sell off housing land to fund £40m conservation bill

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

THE owner of Blenheim Palace is considering selling land to cover a £40m maintenance bill.

Bosses are reviewing the estate’s 10,000-acre portfolio – the equivalent of 5,668 football pitches – surrounding the 300-year-old World Heritage Site to fund repair work over the next 20 years.

Plots have been earmarked east of Woodstock, where 180 homes could be built, and land on the edge of nearby Long Hanborough, where more than 360 homes are proposed.

West Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission for 58 homes on estate land near Marlborough School in Woodstock in May.

The estate, owned by the Duke of Marlborough, believes it could even help solve the county’s housing problem by offering land to developers.

About 100,000 homes need to be built in Oxfordshire by 2031, according to the Strategic Housing Market Assessment.

Estate manager Roger File said: “The estate contains a lot of land and we’re doing what any other landowner would do.

“With the way the planning regime is at the moment and the huge shortage of houses being delivered, we’re looking at the estate land to identify the plots that have development potential and to push those forward for development.

“It’s the only World Heritage Site in the country that doesn’t receive significant public funding because it’s the only one in private ownership.

“When we have a situation where we have development opportunities we have to look to take advantage of it because we have a need to make it as sustainable as possible for future generations.”

Despite attracting 650,000 visitors, including wedding guests, and hosting events such as the CLA Game Fair at the 2,000-acre palace, the estate said it had an annual turnover of £1.5m. As part of its World Heritage Site management plan, the palace needs to carry out conservation work costing £40m over the next 20 years. Mr File said this would be funded by selling land to developers, with Pye Homes – the company behind the two developments already proposed – getting first option on any other sites put forward by the estate.

He hoped to raise at least £1m per acre.

The Long Hanborough site, off the A4095 Witney Road to the west of the village, has provoked anger from residents who have set up the Hands off Hanborough campaign group.

That site is 41 acres, but this may not be enough to fund the conservation work.

Mr File vowed the estate would be “sensitive” in its approach to building homes and hoped developer funding for community facilities would help to offset opposition.

Woodstock Mayor Julian Cooper said: “The Blenheim Palace estate is very extensive and owns about 90 per cent of the land around Woodstock.

“If there is any more development it would overload the infrastructure demands of the town. Over the last five years about 150 homes have been built in Woodstock.

“You can’t just keep building on the edge of the town and expect the resources to continue coping with it.”

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