The campaign to save Rickmansworth’s last remaining hotel came to a dramatic end last night as politicians failed to find any grounds to refuse the contentious application.
It seemed that it was fourth time lucky for developers, Keay Homes, who were given permission to demolish parts of Long Island Exchange, in Victoria Close, to make way for 33 flats and four houses.
At a Three Rivers planning meeting last night, politicians unanimously approved the planning application – much to the chagrin of those residents who crammed into Three Rivers House to voice their objections.
Miles Hosking, who spoke against the proposals, said there was a wealth of feeling against the application, not just because of its historical significance – the original building dates back 125 years – but from a business perspective.
He said: “I am feeling a certain amount of frustration that Green King and Keay Homes just don’t seem to get it. At the end of the day we want to keep our hotel.”
He added: “It’s 100 percent used during the week and the weekends, which really, if you consider Green King’s lack of investment, is quite extraordinary.”
Mr Hosking said that the hotel is needed in the area for businesses, residents and to boost tourism.
He added: “It (approving the application) sends a message. I think that closing it is really like saying Three Rivers is closed for business.”
Speaking for the application, Martin Jewell said that Keay Homes has “tried the patience of the committee” recently, which has not been the developers’ intention.
Mr Jewell said: “We have been between a rock and a hard place and I’m not looking for any sympathy on that, but the decisions made by this committee has enabled us to rewrite the contract with the owners which has led to the last application, which in our view is a much more sensible proposal and then to this current application where we have sought to follow the committee’s wishes as expressed on the earlier application.”
Previous requests put forward to the council which were thrown out include proposals to build 87 flats and five townhouses, plans to construct 65 residential units and an application to erect 31 new homes.
This is the first proposal that did not seek to demolish the original Long Island Exchange building, but instead incorporate it into the new design.
Ann Shaw, leader of the Liberal Democrat-run district council, said that the application was a “very difficult” one for politicians to come to a conclusion on.
Councillor Shaw said: “The choice we have seems either to reject the application and take the very, very severe risk of losing everything on appeal or saving the historic building by allowing this application. That is not an easy choice.”
Campaigners voiced concerns about the hotel leaving the area, but Councillor Shaw said that owners, Green King, “could close it tomorrow” and that this was not grounds for refusing the application.
She added: “We all accept that it is important that there is a hotel but in a way it’s irrelevant because we don’t have any authority. We don’t have any control and we couldn’t use it as a grounds for refusal.”
Chris Whatley-Smith, chairman of the committee, urged members to think of anything that would be cause for refusal on planning grounds.
Politicians could think of none and unanimously approved the application.