New homes will be built on the site of an empty hotel in Cornwall despite local concerns that its loss would have a negative impact on the tourism trade, writes Lee Trewhela, LDRS.

A Cornwall Council planning committee has approved plans to convert the Fieldhead Hotel in Looe to four dwellings with a condition that they should not be used as second homes or holiday lets.

Looe Town Council and local Cornwall councillor Edwina Hannaford strongly objected to the proposal on the grounds that it would see the loss of holiday accommodation in a town that depends on tourism, and would not help abate Cornwall’s housing crisis.

Stonehouse Design And Build Ltd had applied for permission to convert the hotel – which many locals have referred to as “rundown” and an “eyesore” – into two three-bedroom houses and two two-bedroom homes. The conversion of the hotel to residential use had previously been refused as “it has not been robustly demonstrated that the property has no viable future in holiday accommodation use. As such the proposal would result in the loss of a tourist accommodation business to the detriment of Looe’s economy and tourism offer”.

However, a spokesperson for the applicant told a meeting of Cornwall Council’s east area planning committee in Bodmin today (Monday, June 12) that the hotel had been marketed by three different estate agents locally, nationally and internationally and a guide price reduced in order to find a buyer. While there was interest in the property, with viewings and offers made, no credible offers were made and “those parties who are interested either wish to attempt to redevelop the property into residential accommodation or can’t identity a sufficiently strong business case to restore or renovate the property as a hotel”.

The applicant told the meeting that there was strong local support to convert the hotel into homes with 78 letters of approval received as opposed to just two against.

Divisional member Edwina Hannaford said in a statement: “I appreciate your comments but the fact remains this is a protected hotel zone in the NDP. This is the most up to date development plan from May 2022 and should supersede the Cornwall Local Plan which is seven years old. The previous refusals are material considerations.

“Several local hotels and guests houses have been sold in the last six months and retained as holiday accommodation including Commonwood, Rivercroft, Haven House and Valley Brook Holiday in Lansallos parish. I don’t believe this is an exceptional circumstance. The owners have cynically allowed the building to deteriorate to suit their plans. Why weren’t any of the three offers accepted? The proposal will not address the severe housing crisis for affordable homes, will not be affordable for local people in Looe or support the local economy.”

Looe Town Council also strongly objected, stating: “It is well known that 50% of Looe’s workforce are employed within the tourism sector and subsequently 50% of other businesses within the town rely also on tourism as supported within Looe Neighbourhood Development Plan supplementary tourism study.

“Since COVID, staycations have become ever popular and continue to do so. Hotels bring broader economic benefits to a town such as Looe. Many accommodation businesses have sold in Looe with in the last 12 months such as Commonwood Manor Hotel and The Rivercroft Hotel to name a few. These businesses have been bought by investment companies who are continuing to run the businesses as accommodation offerings which demonstrates their viability within the locality of Looe. The conversion of The Fieldhead Hotel to residential would not assist with the housing crisis as there is already enough housing stock of varying prices on the open market nor would the proposed fall in the realms of affordable housing price bracket. Looe as a town has already met its housing target as per the neighbourhood development plan.”

The meeting heard that a “principal residency” condition would be part of the approval, meaning that the properties could not be used as second homes or holiday lets. Cllr John Fitter pointed out that the condition did not necessarily mean the homes would go to local people.

The committee agreed unanimously that the hotel should be converted into dwellings.