The Planning Inspectorate Appeal hearing for the proposed Premier Inn hotel on Station Road took place on Wednesday this week at Henley Rugby Club.
Representatives from Blocwork/Premier Inn, South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), Henley Town Council, The Henley Society, local businesses and residents attended the hearing to present their case.
Premier Inn originally submitted a planning application in July 2021, with amended plans submitted in February 2022. The application – which proposes a 115 bedroom, five-storey hotel was refused by South Oxfordshire District Council in August last year.
SODC’s case against the appeal was that “Whether the design and appearance of the proposed hotel building is of a high quality and respects the context of the site and surrounding area. Whether the proposal secures a high quality public realm. Whether the landscaping of the site is sufficient. Whether the proposal has an adverse impact on the special historic character of the adjacent conservation area and the wider townscape.”
Blocwork argue that “Policies contained within the adopted South Oxfordshire Local Plan identify there is a clear and demonstrated need for additional hotel accommodation in South Oxfordshire and Henley-on-Thames. The hotel will create additional jobs during the construction phase and during the lifetime operation of the new hotel. Additional spend in the local economy (particularly to businesses in the town) through increased visitor stays will be significant. Extensive pre-application discussions have been undertaken by the Appellant and the LPA to bring forward a high-quality scheme that will bring significant economic benefits to the town and wider South Oxfordshire economy. Comments received during these pre-application discussions and informed and led the design of the scheme subject of the Appeal. This includes matters associated with the height of the building, the design and the proposed materials. Matters associated with car parking and highways have also been discussed extensively with the Local Highways Authority (OCC). These matters have been resolved and the development is considered acceptable in all matters associated with highways. The proposal will lead to a net increase in parking space.”
The conservation area was a key topic, the significance of the listed Imperial Hotel and the visual impact on what visitors would see on exiting the railway station. Blocwork did not seem to be aware that the main exit from the station is the side entrance which would look on to the large mass of their proposed building.
Julian Brookes from The Henley Society questioned Blocwork’s case for the demand for a hotel as they had referred to an outdated 2014 report. He stated that in the new Neighbourhood plan adopted in December 2022 that the hotel policy included in the original plan was no longer required because a baseline report had shown there were already 154 rooms in Henley. He stated that “I went on airbnb today and there are 80 rooms available in the hotel’s price bracket.”
Talking about the massing, design and materials, SODC Councillor, Ken Arlett said, “The major issues are scale, size and massing, overlooking the conservation area and use of substandard materials. Henley Town Council met with Blocwork at the pre-application planning stage and were disappointed that no changes were made after that meeting.” He referred to Hallmark House, opposite the hotel site being refused for the same reasons. He added, “This proposal fails dismally against SODC policies. There has been no thought for the residents of Wyndale Close – they will be totally overlooked. It does not respect the architectural landscape and is a very sad application.” After this statement the public gallery gave an applause.
Wyndale Resident, Joseph Nicholson questioned the design mass illustrations Blocwork had used in their documents for example the grey depiction of trees included aren’t realistic “because they are just not there!” He also added, “I chose to have my business in Henley and my visitors enjoy the vista they currently see when exiting the station. If this hotel is built it will erode value to my business.”
Later in the hearing, the loss of car parking was another key point. Councillor Ken Arlett did an on the spot calculation and came out at an unchallenged reduction of 200 spaces – not a net gain as Blocwork had stated.
The Inspector now has between 10-14 weeks to write her report and make a decision.
You can read the full Appeal documents here Planning Application P21/S2618/FUL (southoxon.gov.uk)