Planning committee rejects proposals for 20 new homes on old hotel site
Plans to demolish the former Lee Bay Hotel and build 20 new homes have been rejected by North Devon Council.
In an emotionally-charged planning committee meeting at Barnstaple Rugby Club this morning (Wednesday), there were angry outbursts from Lee residents when it appeared that the committee would vote to defer a decision on the Acorn Blue proposal.
But their anger soon turned to joy as councillors moved to refuse what was described as a ‘finely balanced’ application – seven to five against with two abstentions.
The committee had heard a number of impassioned pleas from residents opposing the proposal, which also included the creation of a new café and toilet block, an extended car park and new public open spaces
Alan Bannister, a sixth-generation Lee resident, said: “Lee is a conservation area for good reason; it is perhaps the last remaining unspoilt village on the North Devon coast.
“We all have a responsibility to conserve the village for future generations; we can never undo it once it’s been done.”
Bill Harvey, landlord of village pub The Grampus Inn, struggled to contain his emotions as he raised concerns about homes being snapped up as second homes.
He said: “This village still has a great sense of community but we are in danger of losing that.
“We need more people in the winter and we should be encouraging more affordable housing for local people.”
Eric Couling, chairman of the Lee and Lincombe Residents’ Association, said 70 per cent of residents did not support the application to demolish the hotel, which has been closed since 2008.
“Our small village deserves more,” he said.
Local archaeologist Lucy Scarrott said Lee was a ‘quaint, characterful village in danger of being suburbanised’.
“Lee has been virtually unchanged and untouched for hundreds of years – we should take the opportunity to protect and preserve that heritage,” she said.
Paul Scarrott, chairman of the local Neighbourhood Watch group, said it would ‘clash with the aesthetic of the valley’.
He added: “It is not a sustainable development – what local need is there for luxury apartments? It will at best be used as holiday homes.”
Lee artist Julian Witts said: “Lee is special; it’s managed, despite all the odds, not to succumb to this sort of development.”
Planning committee member, councillor Glyn Lane said: “This is the wrong scheme for this area; it could have a detrimental impact on the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), Heritage Coast and Lee Conservation Area.”
Cllr David Worden said: “I really feel this is the wrong scheme for Lee; it will be like a village within a village.
“A much better scheme could be forthcoming in the future; if we pass it now, we can’t go back.”
But there were also those who spoke in favour of the proposal. Ilfracombe Town Councillor Rod Donovan said Lee Bay was being ‘spoilt’ by the crumbling building.
“It would be negligent to leave the building in the state that it is in at the moment,” he said.
“I find it difficult to sympathise with protestors as they have shown no viable alternative to this application.
“If you were to re-open the hotel, the capital cost would never be redeemed.
“We are now looking at a quality application that addresses a lot of the concerns of local residents; it would give life back to what is a dying community and if rejected, Lee will wait a long time for anyone else to come forward with any confidence in this site.”
Fellow town councillor and planning committee member Geoff Fowler said: “This application is a viable and economic solution for the site.
“I have visited the site and cannot find any redeeming feature worth retaining.
“You can mix the old and new – we’ve done it successfully in Ilfracombe with the McCarthy and Stone development and the new Wetherspoon.
“We have an opportunity to bring a very run down part of Lee Bay back to life.”
Cllr Joe Tucker, who moved to approve the plans, said: “If we don’t make a positive decision today, how long are we going to go on and see this building in a state of disrepair?
“I was quite amazed at how much it had deteriorated – something has to be done.”
After more debate, Cllr Pat Barker moved to reject the plans on design grounds, and on the basis that they would impact on the village economy and conservation.
“It is not reason enough to approve the plans just because nothing else has come forward,” she said.
An eleventh-hour amendment by Cllr Malcolm Prowse to defer the decision and wait for guidance of the implications of a possible refusal was not carried.
Owners David and Vanessa Higgins bought the site in 2008 and were granted planning permission in 2010 to re-develop the dilapidated hotel into 24 apartments, with a restaurant, bar, indoor swimming pool and spa complex.
But work never started and plans stalled until the owners entered into a joint venture and pursue alternative plans with Acorn Blue in 2014.
After the meeting, Acorn Blue planning director Duncan Powell, the developer and owners would now be ‘assessing their options’.