Bid to transform former town hotel is set for planning appeal

PUBLISHED: 08:00 07 December 2017

The Old Falcon Hotel

The Old Falcon Hotel

Archant

An appeal is taking place to decide whether the owner of the Old Falcon Hotel, on the Market Square, can proceed with his plans to create flats, shops, cafes and restaurants on the site.

Dennis Whitfield, of Whitfield Associates, bought the Grade-II listed building, which backs onto the River Great Ouse, in 2004 and wants to develop the site, but has been frustrated by the planning system.

Both the town and district councils have refused his plans for 14 flats and commercial outlets on the grounds of loss of light, noise and smell and inadequate parking, and have also said the plans would be harmful to the setting, character and appearance of the building.

A motion, drawn up by St Neots Town Council, is calling for the building to become the subject of a compulsory purchase order. This will be put before Huntingdonshire District Council’s next planning meeting along with a petition, supporting the motion, which has been signed by almost 1,000 people.

St Neots town councillor Barry Chapman told The Hunts Post: “I would have preferred to have seen the developer work with planners to address concerns rather than go to appeal.

“It has taken a decade for Mr Whitfield to submit a planning application despite the disagreement over the boat house being resolved five years ago. I believe the application is balanced too heavily towards residential use rather than retail.”

The appeal, which started on November 24 and is expected to last for five weeks, is being heard by the Planning Inspectorate and will take place via an “exchange of written statements” which is what both parties have agreed.

The building, at 12-14 Market Square, sits in a conservation area and some of the interior dates back to the 15th century, other parts are thought to have been added in the 17th century.

The rear of the building overlooks the Riverside Park and Mr Whitfield’s plan included the demolition of an old boathouse at the rear, which Historic England had said should be refurbished rather than demolished, but this issue has now been resolved.

Councillors have also raised concerns in the past that the “current appearance and lack of use is damaging to the local St Neots economy and tourism”.

The Hunts Post understands that the building could be worth in the region of £1 million, but before a compulsory purchase order can go ahead, a developer, with a sound business proposition, will have to be found.

Mr Whitfield has insisted that all “historic fabric will be retained” and “open space will still be available”. Mr Whitfield was unavailable for comment but has made his feelings of frustration with the planning process clear in the past.

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