A MAJOR scheme to give Haslemere’s landmark High Street hotel, The Georgian, a new lease of life, has been unveiled.
To make the plan work, the hotel extension in the grounds, housing the spa facility, will close and be converted into apartments, and a row of mews cottages will be built on the car park to the rear – if the proposals meet with Waverley planners’ approval.
The ‘enabling’ residential development will raise £2million to fund a sensitive interior redesign and upgrade of the grade II listed building, to create an upmarket boutique hotel with a ‘destination’ restaurant to match.
An information session was held at the hotel on Saturday for residents to view the proposals and learn more about the scheme from the new hotel owners, five local families who rescued the hotel from administration in August.
It was the second time in three years The Georgian Hotel had gone into administration and former owner Mark McVeigh, who is part of the new consortium, warned the future of the business depended on the new scheme being backed by the community.
“The most important thing to us is local support,” Mr McVeigh told The Herald. “If we don’t get the backing of the community, there is no point proceeding with the plan.
“We want the hotel to be amazing and Haslemere needs a landmark destination to draw more people in.
“The hotel has failed twice and that’s something that needs to change. But we need to raise £2million to make it work. This is the last throw of the dice.
“We have no choice but to close the spa in order to make the scheme work.
“Sometimes in business you have to take hard decisions. We have had to make the staff redundant, but we hope to find new positions the hotel for some of them.
“The spa will remain open for members and guests, but as a self-regulating facility monitored by CCTV.
“We have got some wonderfully loyal spa members, but it is run down and losing a huge amount of money and we can’t afford to carry that loss.
“The hotel extension is also under-utilised with 40 per cent occupancy, so we don’t need the rooms at the back.”
The proposals are to convert the hotel extension and spa into 15 apartments, offering a mix of one, two or three-bedroom properties, and to build a row of three or four cottages.
The money raised will fund a redesign of the ground floor of the main building to provide a restaurant with private dining area which can be opened up to create a flexible space for functions, and also to enlarge the existing bar and make a feature of its boarded up historical fireplace with bread ovens.
A new ‘courtyard’ entrance from the High Street would be created to improve the frontage and make a feature of the ancient chestnut tree planted in 1782.
An application is due to be submitted in January and if agreed, it is hoped building work on the residential development will start in late spring and probably take up to a year-and-a-half to complete.
When the rear developments are complete, work will start on the hotel in phased stages to reduce closure time to a minimum of three months.
Welcoming the scheme, Haslemere Society chairman Jane Stopford-Russell said: “Many members of the society were pleased to attend the presentation.
“The society played an important role in retaining the building as an hotel when it changed ownership some 20 years ago, and is keen to see its role at the heart of the community retained and enhanced.
“The building, itself, is of historical interest and a dominant feature of the town, providing a good venue for community activities through its hotel and restaurant facilities.
“The society is pleased the present owners are keen to upgrade these facilities, which are an important asset to the town.
“The plan includes the modern spa and bedroom block, at the rear of the hotel, being redeveloped as 15 flats, which will provide much- needed accommodation in the town, particularly for retired people.
“The society looks forward to reviewing the planning application when it is submitted and commenting further.”
Loyal spa member Michael Sheringham, who has enjoyed a daily afternoon swim at the centre for the last four years while his wife uses the gym, was saddened by the news.
“Both ourselves and other spa members, some of whom have been going since it opened in 2000, are disappointed,” Mr Sheringham said.
“We received no advance notice of the changes and for a lovely old hotel, a spa is an added attraction.
“We had hoped the new owners would restore it rather than close it.
“Is this really the best place for new flats that will affect the lovely garden?”
The Georgian House Hotel, as it was formerly known, dates from the early 18th century and became an hotel in the 1920s.
Before that, it was The White House with Tudor Cottage – now a detached private house – attached at the side.
The Georgian takes its name from the state in America, which was founded by Sir James Edward Oglethorpe, the borough’s MP, who lived in the Town House just up the street from The Georgian.
The hotel went into administration for the second time in February and was put on the market for £2.5million in April.
It continued to be “business as usual” until new consortium, Lannister House (1782), named for the year the chestnut tree was planted in the High Street next to the hotel, bought the property in September.