D-day for St Albans hotel schemes

HOTEL schemes in the St Albans district look likely to suffer mixed fortunes at a council meeting tonight (Wednesday).

For while the application from Premier Inns to build a budget hotel at the top end of St Peter’s Street in the city centre was recommended for approval, the scheme for a Hilton Hotel in Chiswell Green was once again given the thumbs down by planning officers.

But a leading Tory councillor came out this week in support of both schemes, calling on members of the council’s planning referrals committee to think “sensibly outside the box of any preconceived opinions” about the Chiswell Green scheme while at the same time recognising that a city centre budget hotel would draw more people into St Albans.

Two previous applications for a Premier Inn in the city centre have been refused by councillors but the latest scheme for a 123-bed hotel which will retain the existing facade in St Peter’s Street has found favour with officers.

The amount of accommodation has been reduced since the previous application and the external design has been revised. Planning officers overall are happy with the design and recognise the advantages of a hotel in a central sustainable location.

But the Hilton Hotel scheme has not found favour. The outline application for a 150-bed hotel, conference and function centre at Copsewood, a Green Belt site on the Noke roundabout is recommended for refusal.

Like the city centre proposal, two applications have been submitted already and a number of amendments made to the current application including dropping a proposal for a two-storey staff hostel on the south east corner of the site and increasing the areas of landscaping.

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But planning officers still do not feel that very special circumstances exist to allow it to be built in the Green Belt despite its proximity to Butterfly World and the Gardens of the Rose and the need for additional hotel accommodation in the district.

Former Harpenden town mayor, Cllr Mike Weaver, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the Hilton Hotel scheme.

He pointed out that Copsewood was an unused and derelict piece of land and making it an exception to Green Belt policy would not set a precedent.

He said there were a number of pluses to the project, not least the need for a hotel with large conference room facilities and the boost it would give Butterfly World which, he went on, “has similar potential to the wonderful Eden Project that has done so much for the economy in Cornwall.”

Cllr Weaver also pointed out that there few places better suited to a hotel just north of London with its proximity to M25 and M1 junctions and an excellent rail link into London.

He went on: “We should not ignore our superb location close to the area once called the Golden Triangle. What could be better environmentally than parking on the edge of our city with a bus constantly taking visitors into the city centre?”

And he added: “It is to be hoped that those decision takers will not continue to dismiss out of hand the views of others who see in particular that a hotel project on the edge of our city is a golden opportunity that helps tourism, local employment, city centre viability, a welcoming return to our city and ironically a boost to the environment.”