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Sunday, 15 December 2019
A HOTEL with 100 bedrooms could be built in Henley as early as next year.
It would be situated in part of the station car park and the development could also include an express supermarket.
Network Rail, which owns the land, has applied to dispose of 1,360 sq m of the car park which it says is underused. This section, near the public lavatories, is the only part not to have a tarmacadam surface.
The company says the development is expected to be completed in September 2020, even though a planning application had not yet been submitted.
It says the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan identifies a need for additional hotel space in the town and earmarks the car park as a potential site.
The project is a joint venture between Network Rail and Bloc, which works with land, property and infrastructure owners to maximise the value of real estate.
The development would mean the permanent loss of 61 of the 249 spaces in the car park and a temporary loss of another 50 spaces during the construction period.
In its application to the Office of Rail and Road, Network Rail says the disposal has the support of Great Western Railway, which operates trains on the Henley branch line and beyond.
It says: “Under the Network Rail/GWR collab-
oration, 55 new spaces will be provided at Twyford station where station parking is undersupplied.
“In addition, further land will be made available at Goring and Streatley station to extend the car park and ensure no net loss of spaces across the route.
“Therefore, there will be no net loss of parking on the network and the available spaces will better meet passenger demand.”
Network Rail says the anticipated benefits include “improved” facilities at Henley station and level crossing improvements at Twyford.
It adds: “Completion of the Henley development and the ultimate disposal is expected to be September 2020, subject to the success of the planning application. However, construction is not anticipated to start until early 2020 and the parking spaces will remain available until then.
“The land at Twyford will be made available to GWR before April 2019. There will be a focus on delivering the car park extension before April 2020.”
Neil Gunnell, of the Henley Trains passenger group, said he welcomed the idea of a new hotel but was concerned about the loss of parking spaces, which were used by staff at local businesses as well as rail passengers.
He said: “My message is ‘careful what you wish for’ because there’s a risk that the station car parking could run out. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“There’s a huge demand for parking at Twyford, so that will be gone in a flash, but selling land in Henley to get the benefit elsewhere doesn’t seem like a good thing to me.
“While more parking at Twyford would make it more convenient for some Henley commuters, we want a thriving branch line.”
Patricia Mulcahy, of the Henley Branch User Group, said: “I’ve long felt we need a modern, standalone hotel in Henley. We often have visitors who say ‘where can we stay?’ The options aren’t obvious. I think it would bring visitors to the area if they could come in by train.”
Mrs Mulcahy said the station car park was never full except during Henley Royal Regatta.
She said: “It’s not convenient to lose 50 more spaces during construction but, more to the point, is the traffic that is caused by the construction. I would be very pleased to see it done quickly.
“We certainly know that at Twyford station, if you don’t get there early in the morning, you don’t get a space.”
Network Rail’s property department has launched a consultation on its plans and has asked Henley Town Council to respond by February 22.
Members of the council’s planning committee, which met on Tuesday, said they were in favour of the hotel plan in principle but were concerned about the loss of parking spaces.
Chairman Ken Arlett said: “In the neighbourhood plan it does say that area may be used for a hotel... [but] it goes on to say we need to encourage car parking as well.”
Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said the new hotel would add to the vibrancy of Henley and it should be modestly priced but the town needed long-term parking spaces.
Councillor Will Hamilton said the hotel should be no higher than three storeys and should have underground parking.
He said the loss of parking spaces could encourage commuters to use the station in Shiplake where street parking is already a problem.
He added: “I do think we should investigate the feasibility of whether this council should be looking to acquire this site. I have no idea how much Network Rail is intending to sell it for.”
Mayor Glen Lambert said he was against the hotel plan without any mitigation for the loss of car parking.
But Councillor Lorraine Hillier said the car park was underused, adding: “One of the things we have always looked for, as well as affordable housing, is an affordable hotel.
“I think we should embrace a hotel there.”
Councillor Donna Crook said she would like the Imperial Hotel in Station Road to re-open, adding: “It’s just sat there and it breaks my heart.”
• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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