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Long Island Exchange could be replaced by flats and houses
One of Rickmansworth’s most prominent local landmarks could be demolished and replaced with a modern block of flats.
The Long Island Exchange hotel is the first thing many people see when they exit the station but few realise the main building dates back to approximately 1888, making it the oldest and only surviving hotel in the town.
Property developer Keay Homes has applied for planning permission to demolish the 120-year-old hotel - which was at one stage home to composer Arnold Bax and was the venue for The Proms for two years during World War Two - and replace it with 87 modern flats and five townhouses.
On learning of the application, Rickmansworth councillor Paula Hiscocks, a member of the planning committee at Three Rivers District Council, and Councillor David Sansom sought to have the property locally listed as an important historical building, a move that would afford it special protection.
They were told the building did not meet the criteria to be added to the borough’s 350 locally listed buildings, a decision they both contest.
In addition, Councillor Hiscocks was banned from joining in discussions or votes on the application by council chief executive Steven Halls after allegedly "predetermining" her views on the application.
She said: "We had a meeting with the chief executive after he initially said no [to locally listed status], he told us he would be happy to see it demolished.
"We want to know why this can’t now be locally listed as I believe not including it in the first place was an oversight.
"It is a lovely building inside and the hotel is well used by people on business and those visiting Watersmeet. If there is no hotel, the town will lose business.
"This is a good building, it has got a lot of historic interest and it’s a landmark - if we lose this we’re not going to get it back.
"If this is what the council want to do in Rickmansworth then let’s pull the whole thing down and build Milton Keynes."
Councillor Hiscocks also denies she has made up her mind about the application, saying she would accept a conversion to apartments provided the structure of the pub - formerly the Victoria Hotel - was protected.
She said: "This is supposed to be a democracy but one officer has made the decision not to locally list it and there can be no appeals process.
"This is a landmark building but I do not go in with a concrete frame of mind, I go into it with an opinion as any other councillor would.
"I’m thinking about it no differently to how any other councillor would."
In a statement, Mr Halls said: "Committee members who make objections to, and take a fixed stance on, a planning application prior to it coming to a committee meeting and who have firmly made up their mind in advance on how they will deal with the application, cannot then take part in and vote on that application.
"To do so with such a closed mind would amount to bias and predetermination which would jeopardise the whole decision making process.
"As with other planning committee meetings, the discussion and vote will be held in public.
"Residents are welcome to attend and there will be the usual opportunity for them to speak for or against an application, in line with the committee’s usual procedure."
The site was listed in the council’s Local Development Framework in 2009 as a suitable location for housing to be built. The developer’s application is due to be heard early next year.
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