Hotels key use for UK’s foremost buildings
22 OCTOBER 2015 8:03 AM
Buildings of national importance in the United Kingdom have stringent planning guidelines, but those responsible for them understand their use as hotels is the most viable for their future health.
LONDON—The notion that national and local authority planning and conservation authorities in the United Kingdom are somehow not on the same side as hoteliers is a falsehood, sources said.
Despite frustration voiced by some hoteliers, planning authorities understand hotels are one way, if not the best way, of preserving buildings deemed of national importance, so-called “listed” or “graded” properties.
That was the message emanating from a panel titled “Navigating the red tape” at the 2015 Independent Hotel Show. The panel included two hoteliers; an architect; and an executive from Historic England, the government department overseeing planning and re-use of nationally important English properties.
Nigel Barker, planning and conservation director, London, at Historic England, joked that he and his colleagues did not get out of bed every morning thinking up new ways of annoying hoteliers.
“The planning system is there to protect the public interest, but it is in no one’s interest if a building is not in use and does not have a viable future,” Barker said.
“Historic England has long said one of the finest uses of a lot of these buildings is as hotels,” added the panel’s architect, Nick Childs, founding partner and design director at Childs & Sulzmann Architects.
Working as they do on case-by-case bases, hoteliers still feel red tape clogs the system.
Childs said the planning process has changed significantly.
“There are now 17 different agencies you have to speak to, and added to that there’s more pressure now to know (a building) is going to work. Then you have fire safety and environmental health departments to satisfy,” he added.
Up against it
The two hoteliers on the panel understood the need to preserve heritage but argued more could be done to bridge the gap between that need and the needs of their businesses.
Justin Salisbury, owner of three-hotel U.K. chain Artist Residence, with properties in Brighton, London and Penzance, said he is often exasperated by idealistic approaches shown by some planning authorities, which clashes with commonsense approaches adopted by most hoteliers.
Salisbury argued that when he renovated his original hotel, the one in Brighton, he was told by planning authorities to have the property resemble the Regency style the city is noted for.
“We ripped out horrible lino flooring but were told to replace it. Why? The building was dilapidated, the lino was not listed and people my age are unlikely to come to the city if everything is Regency and the same,” Salisbury said.
The panel’s other hotelier, Oliver Heywood, co-founder of Flat Cap Hotels, said he feels hotel companies such as his are doing all the good stuff, only to clash with planning authorities. He agreed buildings need to be protected but that a commonsense approach is needed.
Heywood and his brother Dominic converted their first property, The Vicarage Hotel in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, from a 17th Century coaching inn, which had last been used as an Indian restaurant.
“As hoteliers we need to look at the venue from an operational viewpoint,” Heywood said. His company, established in early 2015, will soon announce its second and third properties.
Two other problems exist in high construction costs and lost skills, panelists said. To solve the latter, “there are trainee schemes to plant the seeds for these skills to return,” Barker said.
Barker and Childs said to offset such angst associated with redeveloping listed or graded buildings, early planning and experienced advice are necessary.
Among their advice:
- Understand your building and its listing as early as possible so fantastical ideas do not fall at the first hurdle.
- Make all legal efforts to have your building be accessible to all. While it is in every location not possible, such access does help a building’s viability.
- Understand fire safety requirements. Fire safety officers around the U.K. have different approaches even if bound by the same law.
- Obtain your building’s exact legal listing, which are today free and thorough. Organizations such as Historic England also provide advice, tips and likely cost savings.
Barker said one takeaway from the panel was the need to further demystify the process for hoteliers and others.
One myth he mentioned was developers and hoteliers assume medieval windows are not energy-efficient and thus time is spent analyzing that situation, knowing they are undoubtedly listed.
“The worst (window) culprits are those made from the 1950s to 1980s,” Barker said. “Brush strips can be placed against windows without planning permission.”
Childs said he worked on a building with timbers of Canadian pitch pine, which was no longer available. Instead, Welsh oak was used, which still satisfied listing requirements.
He brought up an even more practical point relating to discussion and experience.
“People are worried about good consultancy, and its cost, but often it’s free. Much is statutory, and the people behind that want to help, or it will be given free as part of relationship building leading to additional paid consultancy and work,” Childs said.
“Gather your evidence, get good negotiators and realize there’s unlikely to be the same approach to each case,” he said.
“What we do is absolutely terrify the client, which helps sort things out as early as possible,” Childs added.