This was the question posed by Planning Committee Chairman, Councillor Nick Fogg at last night’s meeting of the Town Council Planning Committee (Monday 14 June).
New applications have been submitted which changes what the original old school building will be developed into – now Residential and Office units.
Developer Sherbourne Estates’ Development Director, David Milligan and MD Tim Buckley attended last night’s meeting to answer questions posed by Committee members and members of the public present.
Sherbourne initially submitted an application in late 2019 (with Listed Building Consent application) to convert the former Listed School building and grounds into ‘a boutique hotel with eight new homes’.
The original intention, as then stated on Sherbourne Developments’ website was to create a new development entitled ‘St Peter’s Mews’ that ‘will comprise of eight classically designed, bespoke properties, a boutique hotel and an exclusive high-end restaurant and bar’.
Cllr Fogg raised several other questions as well, one of which relating to the original concept of the development of a hotel, and he had received a letter from a citizen “who has had some connections with the hotel business and he said that it was very unusual for a developer to attempt to develop a hotel without having a pretty certain client in mind, rather than slinging it on to the market without having any idea as to who might take it up.”
Cllr Fogg then questioned why offices(?), commenting: “You said that the demand for offices has fallen because of Covid and more people working from home, we just recently had an application from just over the road to turn offices into residential because of the lack of demand for offices. I do get the impression that we are getting a ‘pot pouri’ of uses for this building, starting off with a hotel, now going on to residential, and then the office space business, and then tonight, possible take-away facilities and things like that. It’s very difficult for me to determine what your proposals actually are for this particular building.”
David Milligan, in response stated that “We did speak to three or four major Hotel developer, but mainly three major hotel groups they all disappeared and said they are not going to do it.”
Cllr Guy Loosmore noted that the original presentation by Sherbourne to the Town Council to develop ‘this iconic building’ was based “very, very strongly” that it “was a hotel development”, and “now we find a situation where we can’t find an operator”. He noted that “Covid has clearly had an impact on the market”, but added that “a lot of things are coming back, and I suspect that ‘Boutique type hotels will also come back”.
He added: “There’s a bit of a conundrum here” … “Do you find it a bit strange that we now have a situation, where that building suddenly, is not that easy to convert into a hotel” noting the comparison to the original presentation where it wasn’t a particular issue about converting it into a hotel adding that “I find it a bit strange that we now have a situation where this building is suddenly not that easy to convert”.
David Milligan, for Sherbourne, explained that whereas it was believed that the layout of the original building would be straightforward to convert, prospective Hotel Operators thought otherwise – that it would be quite expensive to convert, and advice from Architects confirmed this. He added that in maybe three years time the market might have changed, but they couldn’t wait for those three years to elapse so they had to look for alternative uses. Adding “That it was never our intention to do this”.
At the end of the discussion Cllr Hall made a proposal, clarified by Town Clerk Richard Spencer-Williams ‘that this council objects to the application on the grounds that it doesn’t meet the affordable housing target criteria which is an integral aspect to the housing requirement, adding a codicil that the Council is concerned about the lack of clarity of the future intentions of the developer’. This was carried by seven votes in favour with four abstentions.