Monday, 18 January 2021

Design of proposed hotel ‘horrendous’ and ‘boxy’

Design of proposed hotel ‘horrendous’ and ‘boxy’

A CONSERVATION group is opposing plans for a five-storey hotel with 115 bedrooms to be built in Henley station car park.

The Henley Society claims the proposal by Blocwork, a partnership between Network Rail and London developer Bloc Group, would remove parking spaces at a time when demand is likely to increase.

It says the hotel design isn’t suitable for its historic surroundings and there is enough hotel accommodation in the area already.

The society, which was formed in 1961 to protect the town’s environment and quality of life, was responding to a public consultation which will end on Tuesday.

Blocwork says it will submit a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council once it has taken all feedback on board.

It says the hotel would be run by the Premier Inn chain and would be used all year round, increasing spending in the town’s shops.

The development would take away about 60 of the station’s 249 spaces, although 12 would be created in an adjacent section by removing a coach drop-off point.

Network Rail says there is spare capacity at Henley and the scheme would allow 55 new spaces to be created at Twyford, where there is a shortage, and hopefully more at Wargrave and Goring too.

But David Whitehead, chairman of the Henley Society’s planning committee, said the town would need extra spaces in years to come.

He said: “The Greys Road and King’s Road car parks are often full at peak times. If Network Rail believes it has surplus space, it should sell the land to the town or district council for extra parking instead.

“It has underestimated future demand as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted an influx of people from London. While some will doubtless work from home, there’s bound to be more commuter demand.

“The Red Lion in Hart Street is currently being renovated to provide ‘upmarket’ hotel space and there are plenty of bed-and-breakfasts in the area for those needing cheaper accommodation. The Catherine Wheel in Hart Street and Crockers in Market Place also offer rooms.

“I can see this hotel being used at peak times like Henley Royal Regatta and the festival, whenever they may return given the disruption caused by coronavirus, but it’s hard to imagine it being occupied all year round.

“The design is horrendous — it’s very functional and looks like something for business trips but Henley doesn’t attract that sort of trade and I don’t think tourists will want to stay in a car park next to a noisy station. It’s too high for its surroundings and is just a standard boxy building.

“We also have hundreds of new homes in the pipeline as part of our neighbourhood plan, which will create additional pressure.”

Mr Whitehead said the old Imperial Hotel in Station Road, which has been shut since 2006, should re-open instead.

Owner Dr Raymond Crockett, from Remenham, refurbished it in 2013 with a view to re-opening it but this never happened.

“It’s a travesty that it has been vacant so long and local authorities should apply pressure on the owner to bring it back,” said Mr Whitehead. Geoff Luckett, chairman of the society, said: “The proposed hotel is much too big and fails to respect the historic character of the neighbouring conservation area. It looks like they’ve plucked something from a standard corporate design book.

“It’s hugely unneighbourly and any additional parking places would be taken up by staff and guests. We’ve only got 973 off-street spaces within 10 minutes of the town centre and that’s for a town of 11,000 people, not to mention dozens of surrounding villages.

“If we lose more spaces, it would put even more pressure on the district council to add a layer of decking to either Greys Road or King’s Road car park, which my committee is divided on.”

The residents’ association in Wyndale Close, off Station Road, which the hotel would overlook, has told Network Rail that demand for parking spaces is growing and getting rid of several dozen bays would exacerbate the problem.

Alex Weller, who has lived in the street for more than a decade, said: “You can’t stop someone building on their own land but I don’t think five storeys is right and I’d hate to be looking at the back of something like that. The station isn’t particularly pretty but this building seems higher than anywhere else in Henley and I’d definitely notice it from my garden. The design is not in keeping with Henley in any way.

“I understand the need for some hotel accommodation and I’m sure a bar or restaurant might improve that area but I was very surprised at the high number of rooms being proposed.”

Henley Town Council’s planning committee will discuss the scheme on Tuesday.

Councillor Will Hamilton said: “I support an affordable hotel in principle but this is too big. They should only build three storeys and if they need a fourth, they could build an underground car park.

“If that had been provided when Townlands Memorial Hospital was refurbished in 2016, it would have solved Henley’s parking problems and we shouldn’t miss the opportunity again.”

Neil Gunnell, of the Henley Trains passenger group, said the car park was often full and building extra places elsewhere wouldn’t address a future shortfall in Henley.

He said: “If the hotel is built, the car park would lose more spaces than the number we used to see empty before the coronavirus pandemic started.

“In the event of a shortage, parking would be prioritised for rail users as has happened elsewhere, possibly through a discount scheme. I know some businesses currently rent spaces at the car park so their workers would have to find somewhere else to park.

“There could also be a conflict between hotel and train users as it’s unlikely that guests would have checked out and left by 7am for the start of the commuter services.”

Patricia Mulcahy, of the Henley Branch User Group, said: “It’s obviously going to reduce parking capacity but you have to ask whether there will be as much demand once the pandemic ends.

“There’s also a shortage of hotel accommodation in Henley and while the Red Lion has been purchased for refurbishment, a Premier Inn is more affordable and targets a different demographic — and, after all, Henley is a tourist destination.

“A friend of mine who uses that car park is strongly against any loss of car parking but it’s Network Rail’s right to sell that land and it could make improvements elsewhere. It’s a complicated issue.”

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