The project involved redevelopment of a surface car park and listed underground vaults in a commercial area. The proposal comprised 35 homes, a 61-bedroom hotel, 1,954 square metres of underground office space, a restaurant, retail space and a gym, along with new public realm. The scheme was a resubmission of an earlier, slightly larger one previously dismissed on appeal over affordable housing provision.
The first main issue related to the adequacy and amount of underground office space provision. The listed vaults had formed the cellars of a brewery and there was no dispute about their suitability for office use in listed building terms. However, the council was concerned that the office space would be of poor quality because it would be mainly at lower basement level without natural light, leading to a poor environment for staff.
The inspector was satisfied that modern LED lighting and the existing high ceilings at basement level would provide a good standard of amenity for prospective occupiers. He also noted that planning permission would be required for any future change of use because of the site’s central activities zone location.
The offices would comprise 19 per cent of the floorspace, residential uses 35 per cent and the hotel 27 per cent. The council considered the office element too low. After analysing the relevant policies, the inspector decided that as the site was in a general employment area, the amount of office use proposed would be acceptable and comply with local plan policies.
The other main issue revolved around whether the proposed hotel would result in an overconcentration of such uses in the area. The appellant provided uncontested evidence that there was a need for three and four-star hotels in this location, especially boutique hotels like the one proposed, catering primarily for business customers during the working week and tourists at the weekend.
The council claimed there was an overconcentration of hotels in the immediate area. But the inspector referred to its own policy wording and consultants’ latest assessment of the supply of hotels and similar serviced accommodation uses within a 500-metre radius of the site. This provided clear evidence that the concentration of such uses in the immediate locality was generally less than that in the City of London and its fringes, he found.
He concluded that the proposal would beneficially contribute to mixed use of the area by delivering offices and a hotel that would serve a strategic employment function, as well as contributing to its tourist function and providing much needed market and affordable homes to help meet the borough’s housing land supply.
Inspector: Nick Fagan; Hearing