Row as castle trust ousted

THE CHAIRMAN of the Ivanhoe Trust, which has run Conisbrough Castle for the past 20 years, has today attacked Doncaster Council over the events that led to English Heritage taking over the monument's management.

Speaking exclusively to the Times, John Wain said: "I believe that the borough council and English Heritage have behaved unethically, undemocratically and with grave discourtesy in the process of reaching this solution."

Today the Times reveals how English Heritage unilaterally made the decision to take control after losing patience with the trust and council, who had failed to come to an agreement over a business plan for the castle following more than a year of negotiations.

Mr Wain, who has been acting as castle manager on a voluntary basis since September, 2006, claims that the impasse was brought about because of a lack of support from the council, who refused his request for permission to appoint a full-time manager.

But Doncaster Council's Managing Director Paul Hart has hit back, saying: "The council has spent a considerable amount of time working with the Ivanhoe Trust, but they have not been able to convince us or English Heritage that they are in a better position to manage the facility than English Heritage themselves."

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Castle group attack council for 'betrayal'

THE CHAIR of the group which has run Conisbrough Castle for 20 years has attacked Doncaster Council for the 'betrayal' that he believes led to English Heritage retaking control of the monument.

John Wain was informed at the 11th hour that the Ivanhoe Trust would be losing their position as managers of Conisbrough Castle and he feels a lack of support from the council over the past 18 months brought this about.

Mr Wain, a former councillor, told the Times: "I believe that the borough council and English Heritage have behaved unethically, undemocratically and with grave discourtesy in the process of reaching this solution. I purely believe that Doncaster Council's financial position has been pushing them towards this decision for two years. If they had been honest from the start and told us what they wanted that would have been fine."

A joint statement from Doncaster Council and English Heritage last week confirmed that direct management of Conisbrough Castle was to be returned to the government body on April 1.

This week it emerged that English Heritage had taken the decision unilaterally, having lost patience with protracted negotiations between the council and the Trust over a business plan for the castle, which has not had a full-time manager since September 2006.

English Heritage's assistant visitor operations director for the north, Michael Constantine, said that the body had to step in because of the financial and managerial situation.

He said: "For four years the whole situation has gone round and round in circles and at some point someone had to make the decision to take control. That decision falls to English Heritage to make because we have it under guardianship."

Doncaster Council managing director Paul Hart said that the Ivanhoe Trust had failed to assure them that they would be the best body to manage the castle.

Mr Hart said: "The Council has spent a considerable amount of time working with the Ivanhoe Trust, but they have not been able to convince us or English Heritage that they are in a better position to manage the facility than English Heritage themselves. Under the management of English Heritage, we believe that Conisbrough Castle can achieve its full potential as a top tourist destination and we will be supporting them to achieve this."English Heritage have a statutory responsibility for ancient monuments including Conisbrough Castle, and they have made the decision to directly manage Conisbrough Castle because they believe they can improve on the current management arrangements."

In December 2006, a Doncaster Council scrutiny committee endorsed a report recommending the best option for future management involve a service level agreement between the Ivanhoe Trust and the council would see the trust continue on in charge on the basis of an annual grant from the council.

This report was approved by the council Cabinet subject to agreement on a business plan between the council officers and the trustees - but 15 months later a business plan had still not been finalised.

Mr Wain, who had been acting as castle manager on a voluntary basis on top of his other duties, said: "We asked to appoint a manager and were ordered not to. Assistance with our business plan was never provided when we requested it. We just feel let down and a sense of sadness about the whole situation."

He addeed: "It wasn't until the end of January 2007 that the trust was notified of the council's decision. At the same time the trust was asked to submit a draft business plan. We prepared and submitted the document and were asked on two successive occasions to provide more detail."

In April 2007 the trust asked Doncaster Council for permission to recruit a new manager but had their request turned down.

English Heritage's Mr Constantine explained: "If the Ivanhoe Trust had appointed a manager and we had to take control we would have had to take the manager on ourselves. We have a structure that the castle will fit into with a manager taking charge of a cluster of attractions. At that time the future running of the castle was still up in the air.

"I have great admiration for the way that John Wain has kept the place going because as an operations manager I understand the very difficult circumstances that he has had to face."

But Mr Wain claims to have been kept in the dark thoughout 2007, with the council failing to respond to the trust's resubmitted business plan, and he only found out that the trust would no longer manage the castle after the decision was made public.

He said: "No formal decisions have, to our knowledge, been taken by any committee of the council. English Heritage has not waited for such a decision, it has not entered into detailed discussion with any stakeholders other than the borough council, it has not started full consultation with all stakeholders."

At emergency meeting of the trustees last week officers from English Heritage and Doncaster Council told those present that the discussion on the draft business plan had reached an impasse and due to this being sustained over many months the body had been obliged to step in and take the initiative.

The future of the Ivanhoe Trust is now unclear and trustees will meet soon to discuss their future.