Hotel bid refusal was right choice
I commend the Planning Committee for refusing the development application submitted by tycoon property development company The Fragrance Group for the Mineral Water Hospital.
It would have turned it into yet another luxury hotel with a massive, greedy extension taking up all the available space behind the existing building and making the lives of neighbouring residents untenable.
Councillor Rigby said: “For some of the (neighbouring) flats on the lower floors, you’d have to stick your head out of the window and turn it around to see any sky whatsoever.”
At the online Zoom planning meeting, representations were made against the development. One was delivered powerfully by Helen Wilmot, an impressive local resident and campaigner who spoke out about the appalling impact on residents and the loss of birdlife. The second was about the important ecological aspect of habitat destruction.
There was a third representation - an irrefutable legal submission (with a statement of intent to go to Judicial Review should the law be broken) by a legal planning professional, qualified to advocate in the High Court.
This became the ‘elephant in the room,’ neither referred to nor reported subsequently. So, for the public record, here is a summary:
The submission referred to BANES Local Plan 2016 - 2036 which states that: “Visitor Accommodation Study shows reduced market potential or further hotel development in Bath.
“Some limited capacity for budget hotels but not before 2021 and no more market capacity for high end hotels during the plan period (low growth) or until the second half of the Local Plan period (high growth).”
Any ‘harm,’ whatsoever, to this important, listed building would need to be balanced by overwhelming public benefit to make the development legal. This is irrefutable and based on extensive case law. There is no public benefit in the existing application.
“The Applicant might assure you that bringing the building into use is a public benefit.
“If this was the truth then no development on any listed building could ever be refused. This point has been tested by the Court of Appeal and the duty of decision makers is to do no harm - not bring the building into use.
“There is no public interest case to overwhelm the strong presumption against granting permission in
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this case. You do not have the discretion in Law to permit this development without an overwhelming public interest case. A failure to comply with Statute and the Local Plan would be to err in law and could result in a Quashing Order at Judicial Review.”
This was a David and Goliath confrontation and rightly, Helen Wilmot won the battle.
It is time that tycoon property developers are told that they cannot inflict greedy and detrimental developments on the residents and the city of Bath and it is time for the council to start abiding by its Local Plan and act within the law.
Meanwhile, ‘high-end’ hotels continue to be waived through the planning process while local guesthouses and small, family-run hotels go out of business.
In an age of pandemic and economic downturn demand is more likely to decrease than increase for high-end hotels. If you want to fight for the long-term future of the Min, we are setting up “Friends of the Historic Min”.
Anyone interested in supporting this can sign up at https://friendsofthehistoricmin.org.uk/wp-login. php?action=register.
The Assembly Rooms looking fantastic in the early autumn sunshine. By Chris Gibbons