Councillors reject plan to convert hotel block into housing

Elme Hall Hotel, built to look like a Georgian mansion but actually only dating to around 1980, is f

The main building at Elme Hall Hotel, where a motel annex on the site could have been converted into housing - Credit: Colliers International

Plans to convert part of a west Norfolk hotel into housing have been refused by councillors on the grounds that it would damage the area’s tourist offering. 

A scheme to transform a 34-bedroom motel block on the grounds of Elme Hall Hotel, beside the A47 on the outskirts of Wisbech, into an HMO (house in multiple occupation), had been lodged with the borough council and was considered by the authority’s planning committee on Thursday.

The council’s planning officers had recommended councillors approve the plans, but councillors instead voted by a razor-thin majority to refuse them. 

A developer named as D Conetta in council papers had applied to convert the block into 26 rooms with a maximum occupancy of 39 people, along with communal kitchen, dining and lounge areas. The main building, Elme Hall, would have remained a hotel. 

A report to councillors had claimed: “The site is no longer [financially] viable, primarily due to the loss of trade to the extensive expansion of the Premier Inn some 12 miles along the A47.” 

But Labour councillor Francis Bone was among those to express concerns about the idea to convert the block into living accommodation. 

“I question the business model and whether this is the right purpose for it," said Mr Bone.

“Could it be lent to something more practical? Perhaps a residential home or a supported living scheme.

Most Read

“I just don’t see how it’s going to work, as it stands.”

But Conservative councillor Brian Long countered that it was not for the planning committee to question the business case. 

West Norfolk council leader Brian Long

Conservative councillor Brian Long said that the applicants would not have put the planning application forwards if they did not think there was a clear business case for it - Credit: Matthew Usher

“It’s unusual, but I don’t think it’s our role as a planning authority to try and second-judge somebody’s business model, if they feel there is a market out there," said Mr Long.

“They’re not going to go through all this - a planning application, and putting in communal gardens and all that - if they didn’t think there was a business case for doing so.”

He added that the flats would provide an “affordable solution” for young people looking to “fly the nest”. 

But committee chair Vivienne Spikings said she wondered whether the change of use was premature, particularly as the tourist economy was beginning to recover following the Covid lockdowns. 

She put forward a motion to reject the scheme.

Eight councillors in total voted to refuse permission for it, against seven voting in favour and one abstention.