By PIERS McGanNott
IiiaisiNGHAsA Archdiocese has run into trouble over its plans to buy a Victorian castle designed by Catholic architect Augustus Pugin.
Archbishop Couve de Murville, who recently admonished Catholic churchgoers throughout his diocese for being tight with their collection money, plans to transform the historic Alton Castle in Staffordshire into a retreat centre for youths.
But one priest told the Catholic Herald that "young people want to be housed in a friendly atmosphere not in something from a horror
"Surely there are any number of more suitable buildings on the market that's if it's a good idea to have these residential areas.", he added.
The Grade One Listed castle, built 150 years ago along with Alton Towers by the Earls of Shrewsbury, was used as a Catholic preparatory school until its closure six years ago.
Built on a rocky cragg Iverlooking the River Charoett, St John's was notorious, one old boy told the Catholic fierald, for its "freezing cold corridors and icy wind that whipped through the build the. However Fr Tom Farrell, the bishop's spokesman, told the Catholic Herald that the Victorian stately home was suitable for 15-18 year olds. "There is a gap at this level; there is no facility for them. It will be used as a retreat centre; we expect to fit about fifty people there", he said
Diocese officials looked at a number of commercial properties, but "with its dormitories and all the rest, this one fits the bill best of all", he added.
Fr Farrell denied that there would be much conversion costs. 'We are continuing the use of the building as it has been hitherto used".
An English Heritage spokesman said that any amendment to the Grade One Listed Building would "dramatically impinge on the building". However she added that "everything has to be balanced with the future use of the building".
Running costs have been estimated at 470,000 a year, and only 50 youngsters can be accommodated in the castle.
English Heritage are unlikely to give permission for the building to be subdivided into smaller rooms.
The plans have also angered Alton parish council, who had hoped that the opening of the castle would mirror the success of nearrby Alton Towers, thus bi-inging a much-needed boost to the local economy. Up to 30 local people would be employed at the castle all year round.
There has been a long running debate over what to do with the castle, which has lain empty since the closure of St John's.A previous bid to transform one of the buildings into a banqueting hall was turned down.
And last year ambitious plans were announced by a preservation company, Monumental Trust,to restore the castle and open it to the public.However these plans were shelved, despite the infusion of grants from historic building trusts.
Insiders estimate that well over a thousand annual collections would have to be spent just for the upkeep of the building. In addition to this, there will be the costs of purchase and conversion which could be well over Ll milll ion.
The Archdiocese receives £12 million a year, much of which goes on education, health care, the maintenance of buildings and the looking after of retired priests.The Archbishop recently implored Catholic churchgoers to raise their weekly offering, which at the moment stands at an average 41.13.