'Extreme disappointment' - Billionaire Tory Donor hotel awarded green belt retrospective planning permission

Campaigners have expressed their “extreme disappointment” after the unauthorised extension of a luxury five-star hotel was given retrospective planning permission.
Fairmont Hotel (image Runnymede Planning Portal)Fairmont Hotel (image Runnymede Planning Portal)
Fairmont Hotel (image Runnymede Planning Portal)

Runnymede Borough Council issued an enforcement notice against the Fairmont Hotel in July 2023 after it was found in planning breach over a series of unapproved extensions at the Englefield Green site.

On Wednesday, March 27, the borough’s planning committee approved an offer from the Egham hotel’s owner, Arora Group, to tear down a derelict mansion one kilometre away at Parkwood Estate – in exchange for being allowed to keep the hotel and its expansions.

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The decision was made following a two-hour debate where councillors voted along party lines, with seven in favour, four against and two abstaining.

The meeting room was packed and an overflow opened to allow all those interested in following the hearing to attend.

Many in the chamber had come in support of the plans, arguing the hotel was a key employer in the area, supported more than 400 jobs and generated millions for the economy.

Residents of Englefield Green West however were largely against the proposals given the hotel’s history of running roughshod over planning law. There is a second dispute surrounding unauthorised development of treehouses on the site which is due to be heard later this year.

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The residents also felt the impact on Green Belt – largely overdevelopment and the setting of a precedent that could allow other developers to hoard land to ‘offset’ future developments – should have counted against the hotel.

However the meeting heard that some of the issues raised regarding the applicant’s alleged behaviour “with regards other alleged planning matters were not material considerations and could not be given any weight in the consideration of this planning application”.

The approved plans instead overwrites previous discretions and allows the group to keep the expanded hotel as well as the hardstanding for the car park in green belt land in exchange for the demolition of the run down Parkwood mansion about a kilometre away.

The meeting heard this would result in there being one rather than two developments in the green belt with the provable benefit of jobs the hotel provides.

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What was not fully addressed during the meeting was how many of those jobs would still be there under the smaller hotel plans.

Equally, nothing was said about the future of the Parkwood land going forward after the block is torn down.

The meeting heard that the hotel is only viewable from the west, from Wick Lane, limiting its negative impact on greenbelt land while its sister Parkwood site stands out more, giving more weight to its demolition.

Speaking against the application, the meeting heard the hotels’ overbuild was 3,367 square metres larger than the Parkwood site and that green belt offsetting would “make it extremely difficult to stop” future encroachments.

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The developer argued that the fallback position, effectively swapping the demolition of part or all of the hotel for the demolition of Parkwood, was a legitimate exchange.

Councillor Peter Snow (Con, Addlestone South) said the hotel put £13.8m a year into the local existing supply chain and that the jobs it brought into the area were not just “important” but real.

“We need to hold the owners to task but the jobs are important”, he added.

Speaking after the meeting was Councillor Andrea Berardi, who has long campaigned against the unauthorised developments on the site.

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He said: “This is an extremely disappointing result for residents championing the protection of our Green Belt.

“Planning committee decision-making is supposed to be apolitical. The seven Conservative councillors present all voted in favour. All other committee members either voted against or abstained.”

A spokesperson for Runnymede Borough Council said: “Having considered the application on its individual planning merits the Planning Committee resolved to grant planning permission for the retention of the Fairmont Windsor Park hotel as built.

“This is dependent on the demolition of the Parkwood buildings and the giving up of permission which will be secured by a legal agreement.

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“Only once this demolition has occurred, and the requirements of the legal agreement and conditions complied with, will the enforcement matter be fully resolved.

“At the meeting of the committee, it was concluded that the benefits put forward as part of the scheme, including the demolition of the Parkwood Mansion house, and the giving up of associated planning permissions, clearly outweighed any harm to the green belt by the unauthorised extensions to the hotel.

“Whilst this matter is moving towards a satisfactory planning resolution, we are disappointed that these works were undertaken on the site without planning permission in the first place.

“We would remind all developers of the importance of securing permission prior to undertaking works, as any works without planning permission are entirely at the risk of the developer.”

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Fairmont Hotel’s unauthorised development built without planning permission and what its owners said about it

Single Storey Ground Floor addition. Additional 202sqm

This was to improve the wedding venue with natural light and direct access to the landscaped grounds to create a “much more attractive proposition than a basement function room”.

It also allowed the hotel to partition space for different events. They also wanted additional breakout space at ground floor level to prevent congestion at larger events, especially those taking place in the main ballroom with a clear need to ensure unimpeded access through the main events entrance.

Single Storey ‘L’ shaped addition. Additional 391 sqm

The change to a Fairmont brand required a restaurant with larger tables and generally more space for each guest “due to the nature of the very high-end brand 5*”. It also allowed the hotel to have a “brand required” private dining room as well as some additional back of house space.

3 Storey Additional 2,130sqm

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This is the largest section of the hotel which was constructed contrary to the approved plans.

The Fairmont brand reviewed the need to create a number of unique larger guest suites to reflect the reputation of Fairmont as known for its “grand and awe-inspiring properties”.

This change allowed better circulation of upper guest room floors while the new enclosed courtyard created privacy to the sunken courtyard and external therapy pool at the lower ground spa and allowed for the creation of a variety of new 1- and 2-bedroom suites including a very high end Royal suite at first floor level with its own balcony.

Roof level alterations Additional 91 sqm

The Fairmont brand review identified that the change to a very high end 5* created an affordability constraint for some guests who attended weddings and wanted overnight stays, as well as the benefits in removing staff living at the hotel. The solution identified was to repurpose the staff accommodation into guest attic rooms creating an additional 42 bedrooms.

Increase in height of building

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Improved floor to ceiling height for guest use and an enhanced mechanical air conditioning system, air conditioning equipment and ducting was concealed from view within a central roof valley.

First Floor Alterations Additional 148.1 sqm

Better use of space.

External Minor Changes and Internal reconfigurations

Enhancements to brand