Prince enters the fray over Naval College

Heritage debate: A 'passionate' royal interest backs bid to find safe hands for Greenwich landmark
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The Independent Online

The Prince of Wales yesterday entered the debate about the future of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, south London, when he visited the site with government officials to discuss its future.

The 300-year-old historical site of the college has been the subject of a concerted campaign to ensure that its future is in safe hands after the Government announced plans to sell a 100-year lease on the college.

The Prince, accompanied by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, and Nicholas Soames, Minister for the Armed Forces, had an hour-long private meeting with college officials yesterday afternoon at the college's Admiral Presidents' Dining Room.

The Prince's spokeswoman, Sandy Henney, said afterwards: "His Royal Highness's passionate interest in heritage buildings is well known.

"What the Prince wanted to do was to encourage a spirit and atmosphere where we can have creative and imaginative thinking for the future of the Royal Naval College. The Prince would like to see access to heritage buildings, but that's not an issue for him to decide. He'll be keeping a very close interest in this."

Ms Henney added that the meeting, which was at the Prince's instigation, was designed to bring "a broad range of discussion that would come up with the best use for a very historical set of buildings".

The Prince was also given a 40-minute tour of the college by its commander, Ian Wellesley-Harding RN, before going to inspect the restorations at Eltham Old Palace.

The Prince has taken a keen personal interest in the future of the college since its proposed sale was reported in the Independent earlier this year.

Lord Lewin of Greenwich, Admiral of the Fleet and chairman of the National Maritime Museum trustees, supported by Prince Charles and the Duke of York, recently announced a "heritage-friendly" scheme involving student lodgings, The Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture and maritime-connected companies.

Earlier yesterday Mr Soames, speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, denied that the Government would sell the college as a hotel.

"We would tell anyone who wanted to turn it into a hotel to sugar off in quick time.

"The use that will be found for Greenwich will be appropriate to its dignity. I would like to give a public guarantee that the people who come to look after Greenwich will be the most suitable to have custody and guardianship of some of the most incredible and supreme buildings in Britain. We have to find the most appropriate, sympathetic and imaginative use for these buildings."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman added that the Prince would be kept thoroughly informed of all developments for the college. Proposals for ideas have to be submitted to the Government by next Wednesday.