countryside protection group – the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) – has come out strongly against extensive plans for an historic hotel on the outskirts of Haslemere.
But opposition has been growing to the £30million proposals tabled by Lythe Hills owners – the Old Thorns group, which has a four-star luxury golf and spa hotel at Liphook’s Griggs Green,
Lythe Hill’s new owners issued a warning last week that without the redevelopment the ageing property would have to close by the end of the year because of mounting losses.”
In a lengthy letter of objection on behalf of CPRE Surrey Waverley District Committee, vice-chairman Colin Hall claimed the plans would neither “preserve the openness of this countryside or conserve and enhance its natural beauty”.
He also claimed the proposals were against Waverley’s planning rules relating to developments within the Green Belt and Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The plans, say the CPRE committee, would “cause harm or substantial harm to the significance or setting of the listed building at the heart of the hotel, the historical importance of which appears to be under appreciated.”
Lythe Hill’s grade II* status puts it within the top five per cent of all listed buildings in the country under the protection of Historic England.With its late 15th-century Tudor origins, Mr Hall said this week, that Lythe Hill was “one of the most important buildings in this part of Surrey”.
A three-year development application submitted to Waverley planners includes the erection of new buildings in eight phases following the demolition of an existing extension and outbuildings.
Featured in the extensive plans is a new wedding and conference centre, the erection of 22 eco-pods and a classic car garage.
Also planned are extensions to the existing gym and spa building, a new restaurant and bedroom wing along with a building for staff accommodation.
But the expansion of the hotel would have a “cumulative impact resulting in the built-up area being extended over almost the entire site”, according to the CPRE.
Overdevelopment from accommodation blocks and restaurants would, it claims, create the most impact to the area and are “wholly disproportionate to existing facilities”.
And the CPRE takes issue with the new features, which include building two new blocks, and a third storey built into the side of the valley.
“They are effectively a new hotel complex of 75 rooms with a 230-seater restaurant, which would materially alter the character of this protected landscape,” it objected.
CPRE also calls the new ground floor and basement restaurant complex “disproportionate”. Its objection letter stated: “The sheer scale is such that it overwhelms the listed building and obliterates any meaningful view from within the grounds of the hotel.”
The new owners – backed by Chinese investors – want guests to be able to hire a fleet of classic cars to explore the neighbouring South Downs.
But the CPRE also takes issue with the building of a store for the vehicles, which it considers unrelated to the hotel’s current activities
It is also sceptical about the proposed 22 eco-pods, saying: “Although ‘mobile’ to the extent that they are capable of being relocated, in their proposed settings, they would effectively be permanent dwellings and detract from the openness of the site an an “inappropriate construction.”
The committee has also taken the owners to task over the felling of trees for the new guest car park, which is not part of the planning application, but which, it claims, involves an area of “designated ancient woodland which has been completely cleared”.
While the CPRE said it accepted there was a need to make the hotel a viable and commercial proposition, it did not form part of the “very special circumstances” protections put in place under national planning policies.
It concluded any investment returns or commercial benefits were not considered to be very special circumstances, which would “justify unconstrained development in such a protected location”.
In the meantime both the Haslemere Chamber of Trade and Haslemere Town Council believe the revamped hotel would bring “value to the town and provide 100 new jobs”.
Speaking to The Herald, local resident Anthony Bennett, who is on the executive committee of the CPRE, said: “We had long awaited a major planning application that we knew a change of ownership would lead to.
“The only surprise was the size of it when you realise that the whole area is in the Green Belt and can be seem from Blackdown.
But he conceded: “The architect has obviously taken a great deal of care over his designs. It is just the scale of it.
“In an ideal world they might take one step backwards and scale it down a bit and make if more sensitive to the location.
“People seem to forget this is a grade II* building and we need to re-examine the situation and show the building in its appropriate setting. We don’t want another Old Thorns.”
The hotel owners recebtly gave a presentation of its development plans to make Lythe Hill a five-star hotel, assuring members of the public who attended, that it would not become a second Old Thorns, with no future plans to build a golf course on the site.
• Waverley has set a target decision date for the application, which has triggered 44 letters of support and 18 objections, of May 17.