Monday, 06 April 2020

Hotel ordered to stop using overflow car park in village

A HOTEL and restaurant in Sonning has been ordered to stop using a nearby field as an overflow car park for a park-and-ride service.

A planning inspector has upheld an enforcement notice issued by South Oxfordshire District Council against the Great House, which has been unlawfully using the land at Frizers Farm for more than a year.

The site, which is about 500 yards to the north of the hotel off the B478, has been laid with an asphalt surface with space for about 60 cars. An earth mound has been created to separate it from the farm next door.

The Great House has also put up bollard lighting and a shelter for customers to wait for lifts to the hotel, where the Coppa Club bar and restaurant is based.

A minibus shuttles customers and staff between the two every 15 minutes.

The business sought permission for the work in 2017 but the district council refused, saying it was unsafe as there is no pavement at the side of the road to the hotel for customers to use.

The council also said the entrance to the hotel would become overcrowded and the car park would create noise pollution and impact on the surrounding countryside.

Similar concerns were raised in an objection by Sonning Parish Council and residents.

The hotel continued regardless and the enforcement notice was issued in February last year.

It was ordered to cease the unauthorised use of the car park, remove the hardstanding, earth mound, lights and shelter and then re-seed the affected area with grass.

The hotel’s property manager John Gripton appealed, arguing that the asphalt surface and earth mound were covered by permitted development rights so didn’t need permission.

He said there wasn’t enough on-site parking to allow the business to expand and without an overflow car park visitors would park in surrounding streets.

He said it was a temporary arrangement until an alternative could be found.

Mr Gripton said closing the car park wouldn’t reduce growing demand and the resulting congestion could cause road safety problems and noise and harm the appearance of the village’s conservation area.

He also asked that the hardstanding should remain as it might have a valid agricultural use and, if his appeal failed, he should have a year to find an alternative arrangement or the business would suffer.

But planning inspector Sandra Prail dismissed the appeal, saying there was no evidence that the hard surface was required by the farm and the size of the earth mound was “significant” so it did require planning permission.

She said the lights and shelter introduced “an urban, commercial element which is alien to its setting... they represent incongruous features which are not characteristic of the wider conservation area”.

Mrs Prail accepted that the hotel had a shortage of on-site parking but said it had created extra demand by seeking to expand so had exacerbated the problem.

She said it was “speculative” to suggest closing the second car park would cause more problems.

Mrs Prail added: “The availability of [overflow] car parking might attract visitors who would otherwise choose an alternative venue... there is no argument before me that the hotel is unviable without the off-site parking.

“I recognise the social and economic benefits of business growth but on balance I conclude that the identified harm outweighs the benefits.”

She concluded there was a risk to customers walking in the road, saying: “The minibus cannot be enforced and there is a real likelihood of customers making the journey on foot.

“The route is unsuitable for pedestrians... and is particularly unsafe for people with mobility difficulties or pushchairs and the risk is exacerbated by the fact that use may be during hours of darkness and following consumption of alcohol.

“I conclude that the development causes harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding area... this development is not sensitive to its surroundings and does not have an acceptable impact on local roads.”

The car park must be shut by May 4 and the land made good by September 4.

Mr Gripton said: “We’re obviously disappointed but respect the inspector’s judgement and will comply. Our concern is that it doesn’t solve the problem of us becoming victims of our own success.”

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