Wednesday, 08 July 2020

Old hotel could be care home

AN historic hotel in Henley could become a care home.

MG Hotels, which owns the Red Lion on the corner of Hart Street and Thames Side, has submitted a planning application to convert it into a “residential institution”.

The hotel could also
become a hospital, nursing home, boarding school, residential college or training centre.

The application comes only a month after the Grade II listed the hotel  was put up on the market for offers in the region of £7.5 million.

It is currently being used to house 12 homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic but will re-open on July 4 following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

On Tuesday, the town’s council’s planning committee recommended that consent
is refused by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

Councillor Will Hamilton said: “This is absolutely the wrong thing for Henley. This is a town amenity, a facility that is used by visitors to our town, and, in its prime position, it needs to continue to be a hotel.”

Councillor Rob Romans said that converting the hotel into anything else would be “counterproductive” in a tourist town. “We would losing a vital piece of resource here so, as far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t happen,” he added.

Councillor Donna Crook said: “It needs to be protected and kept as a vital place for tourists to come and stay. It’s right in the centre and a care home wouldn’t be good, it’s not practical.

“We need someone to come in with a lot of money and buy that place and keep it as a hotel.”

Planning officer Jodie Rhymes said: “The Red Lion Hotel is a very important building and it is prominent within the approach to Henley.

“It makes a positive impact on the overall town and is a key accommodation provider. I have concerns over this proposal and due consideration needs to be given to the impact of this important building and the protection of this facility.”

She said the proposal conflicted with the historic environment policies in the district council’s local plan and policies safeguarding community facilities which aim to protect the attractiveness of Henley for visitors. The Red Lion dates back to 1632 . Former guests have included Charles I, who stayed there in 1632 on his way from London to Oxford. Others include the Duke of Marlborough, poet William Shenstone and the Duke of Wellington.

Sir Winston Churchill visited the Red Lion bar and the actress Grace Kelly visited the hotel in 1947 when her brother Jack was competing in the Diamond Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta.

The Red Lion is currently housing the homeless at the request of South Oxfordshire District Council to safeguard vulnerable people from covid-19.

It closed in March along with other “non-essential” businesses and was asked to accept its new “guests” after the lockdown was announced by the Government.

Along with its  35 en-suite bedrooms, the hotel has a  bar, restaurant, conference suites and events facilities for up to 200 guests as well as 25 parking spaces.

The freehold is being marketed by estate agents Knight Frank, who describe the business as a “prominent riverside boutique hotel” with original period features and with planning permission to add four more bedrooms within the existing footprint of the building.

An additional three bedrooms are capable of conversion from staff accommodation and there is potential to add 16 additional bedrooms, subject to the necessary consents.

MG Hotels also owns the Manor Hotel in Datchet.

The district council is due to make a decision by July 31.

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