The chair of a Northampton Castle heritage group says she is “deeply disappointed” derelict land in the town centre earmarked to be a public open space is now going to be used for housing.
Northamptonshire County Council announced today (Wednesday) that it was inviting architects to submit designs for a development of up to 30 homes on the site of Castle House in Marefair.
But, Dr Marie Dickie OBE, chair of Friends of Northampton Castle (FoNc), said the local authority was reneging on a plan, agreed at a cabinet meeting in June 2013, to “create in its place a new public space and urban parkland that serves the interests of local residents, businesses and visitors to the town”.
Dr Dickie said: “The links across this site between Northampton Castle, the medieval St Peters Church, Elizabethan Hazelrigg House, the Saxon Minster or Palace and to the Protestant Dr Doddridge’s first Northampton Church provide a unique opportunity to tell Northampton’s historic story.
“We are deeply disappointed that the county council (without any further public debate) has completely changed its intentions for this site.
“We challenge the council to debate this in public, and allow the argument against this new stance to be put forward.
“We challenge Northampton councillors and representatives in Parliament to speak up for the town’s history and not allow short term and undemocratic purposes to prevail.”
Last July, council leader Jim Harker said the county council was working with Friends of Northampton Castle on the Heritage Gateway project, but Dr Dickie said she did not receive any information about the housing plan for the Castle house site.
She said: “For the sake of a few thousand pounds they are destroying a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a heritage gateway and create a real sense of pride in the history of the town.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said the housing project was only “one part” of the wider Heritage Gateway scheme for Northampton.
The spokesman said: “The wider masterplan for the project has proposals for an area of green space as well as a more specific plan focusing on the location of the site of the Northampton Castle. Firm proposals for these projects still need to be drawn up.
“Two years ago when the Heritage Gateway project was first announced a wide range of options were considered.
“We’ve had firm advice from English Heritage and other heritage professionals that we should maintain a built frontage at the former Castle House site. This is to respect the history of this urban area.
“The plans for the former Castle House site will ensure there is still a viewpoint from St Peter’s Church to the Northampton Castle mound.”