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Controversial plan for ‘underground cave’ hotel gets the go-ahead

Councillor claims tourists will be treated 'like a bunch of troglodytes'

04 December, 2016 — By Alina Polianskaya

A 166-room windowless hotel will be created on the NCP car park site in Great Russell Street

A DECISION to replace a car park with the country’s first completely underground hotel has “let down the whole of the West End”, a councillor has warned.

Glenys Roberts said the 166-room windowless development in Great Russell Street would treat ­people like cave-dwelling “troglodytes” from the ­prehistoric age. A planning inspector upheld developer Criterion Capital’s appeal after it was blocked from developing two basement floors of the multi-storey NCP car park in Bloomsbury.

Soho Cllr Roberts said: “I think a decision like this lets down the whole of the West End. We are ­supposed to be a world class city which means ­showing the lead to others.” She added that visitors would be treated “like a bunch of troglodytes in an underground cave”.

The Bloomsbury Association, which has fought the plans, stated that it was a “disappointing outcome”, adding: “It sets a sad precedent for the expansion of London’s tourist economy taking precedence over the wellbeing of its residents.”

But the inspector, David Prentis, said a lack of windows was not a reason to block the hotel. In his report he wrote: “Visitors to London have a wide choice of hotel accommodation. Perhaps some would choose not to sleep in an underground room. However, others may well decide the benefits of a highly accessible location, close to numerous visitor attractions, would outweigh the absence of a window. I can see no land use planning reason why that choice should be precluded.”

The application, which received numerous objections from residents, was initially thrown out by Camden earlier this year, following concerns over the air quality in the subterranean structure.

Mr Prentis acknowledged the hotel would be “wholly reliant on mechanical ventilation” and recommended the air intake be “fitted with an NO2 scrubber” to mitigate issues. He accepted that the rooms would be “compact” but decided this did not make them “unsuitable for short-term use”.

He also referred to a London Plan policy in his report “…which identifies a need for 40,000 additional hotel rooms by 2031, with 2,500 additional rooms in Camden by 2026”.

After weighing the issues, he decided: “The proposal would not result in material harm to the living conditions of local residents or the amenity of users of the public realm.”

He decided it would “make effective use of an under-used part of an existing building” and “provide additional visitor accommodation in a highly accessible location”.

Julian Carter, planning director at Savills, who submitted an appeal statement on behalf of Criterion Capital, claimed that “the scheme will bring about a series of planning benefits in the context of the government’s agenda to deliver ‘sustainable development’.

“It is expected that the proposed LDN ESH [executive style hotel] which is the subject of this appeal would provide a competitively priced product combining high quality design with sufficient service, and would contribute to providing a choice for visitors to London seeking greater affordability. Without sacrificing the convenience of a central location.”


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