English Heritage (EH) has hit back at attacks on its plans for the 'regeneration' of Chiswick House in west London, one of Britain's most important buildings.
The quango has faced heavy opposition to proposals that will see 'major improvements' to the historic grounds and a renovation of Britain's oldest Palladian house.
At the centre of these plans are designs for a new café by Michael Hopkins, which would replace the existing Modernist 1952 structure by George Norman Chuter in the grounds. Unsurprisingly this has triggered opposition from the Twentieth Century Society.
And other conservation groups - including the Georgian Group and the Ancient Monuments Society - and members of the local community have reacted with fury to the deal proposed to fund the improvements. In the plans, the house, designed by Lord Burlington in 1729, would be used for corporate events.
'[EH is] overanxious to cater for 'the swinish luxury of the rich',' local campaigner Joseph Mirwitch said. '[EH takes] positive relish in- the house reverting to the provision of private entertainment, restricting public access and use.'
However EH strenuously denies 'privatization' of Chiswick House - it hopes access to the house and grounds will be 'improved' and that 'new audiences' will be involved. It says reports that the Grade I-listed House will be extended for corporate events are 'definitely not true'.
At the heart of these plans is a £12 million application made to the Heritage Lottery Fund to bring control of the gardens, currently run by Hounslow Council, together with the House into a trust controlled by EH.
The project would be carried out in two phases - the first dealing primarily with the gardens, the second with the house. Michael Hopkins is 'personally involved' in the integration of the phases, an EH spokesman said.
John Harris, architectural historian, has resigned from the trust governing the house, accusing EH of 'prostituting itself' with its corporate entertainment proposals.
But EH's Martin Clayton says 'this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to unite the management of the house and the grounds.'
by Will Hunter