Plans to convert Harpenden hotel into housing approved

Harpenden House Hotel

Harpenden House Hotel - Credit: Archant

The demise of Harpenden’s last hotel is now set in concrete after the developer behind its proposed conversion to housing was given the thumbs up by the district council.

Approval granted at a recent plans north committee meeting allows for the demolition of outbuildings and creation of 37 homes, including five flats, in the closed, Grade II* listed hotel.

After two withdrawn schemes, it was a case of third time lucky for Fairview New Homes, which bought the 1.1 hectare site unconditionally in 2014, but had struggled to design schemes acceptable to planners.

Its revamped application drew a mixed response from residents and councillors in the town, with those in support praising its design as “nice” and “in keeping with the area”.

But objectors were concerned at the change of use to residential, and lamented the loss of the town’s last hotel as being “to the detriment of the local and wider community”.

At the committee meeting on September 19, town and county councillor David Williams said that Harpenden town council felt “very let down [as] this iconic site has been unoccupied for too long, is increasingly unkempt and neighbouring properties are affected by vermin.

“There have been two firms of architects, two planning consultants and in essence three designs - such that effective consultation has been frustrated.

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“All credit must go to the district council’s planning officers who had to respond to poor designs.”

He said a key concern for the town council was that while “thousands of pounds have been spent on architects and planning consultants, we are told that the viability of this 37-dwelling development in a prime Harpenden location merits an offsite cash contribution of just £495,000 towards the provision of affordable homes.

“The town council is appalled by this trifling contribution.”

A council report said the application did not deliver any affordable housing units on the site, contrary to the local plan, and that Fairview had submitted a viability assessment stating the scheme would “only enable a relatively low level of profit on sales.

“The assessment has been independently tests by council-appointed specialists, and they have generally accepted the figures provided,” it added.

Speaking on behalf of Fairview Homes for the bid, Mike Walker explained the “development cannot viably deliver on-site affordable housing due primarily to the high build costs and the costs of restoration of a listed building.”

Mike said the proposals had “fundamentally altered since the first application, with significant reductions in height, scale and massing.”

He added: “The viability of the scheme is challenged. However, doing nothing cannot be an option. It would leave the listed building and this important visible gateway site derelict. And that would make the worst contribution to the conservation area and to Harpenden.”

It emerged that, just prior to the committee meeting, Fairview had signed a unilateral undertaking under section 106 - for developer contributions to the community - agreeing to a £495,000 payment towards off-site affordable housing, and a further £88,821 for projects at Rothamsted Park and youth and other services.

Had that not been signed, the firm was at risk of having the bid refused if the section 106 not been completed within three months of the committee’s resolution.

Mike described Harpenden House Hotel, a three-storey building which dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, as “an important visible gateway to Harpenden town centre.

“The proposed redevelopment of this redundant brownfield site will guarantee the survival of the Grade II listed building, enhances the conservation area ... and delivers much-needed new homes.”

The Herts Advertiser understands that Fairview hopes to start pre-construction work this month, with building to begin mid-2017.