Ambitious £60m plans for Studland hotel rejected by councillors

The general manager of Knoll House Hotel in Studland says he’s disappointed that proposals to transform it into an upmarket five star resort have been refused planning permission, despite offering to bring substantial investment and jobs to the area.

At the Dorset Council eastern planning committee meeting on Wednesday 9th February 2022, the plans to redevelop the 1930s hotel, where the children’s author Enid Blyton used to stay, were turned down by councillors.

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The existing frontage of Knoll House Hotel
Knoll House

The current hotel was built in 1931

Urged to come up with a Plan B

However the hotel’s owners, the Kingfisher Group, is now being urged to come up with a Plan B and resubmit its plans on a slightly smaller scale with more sympathy to the natural environment, as councillors recognised the project’s potential boost to the local economy.

The plans scrutinised at the planning meeting included creating 30 hotel rooms, 41 new holiday apartments, 6 villas and 16 maisonettes, as well as a luxury spa with indoor and outdoor pools along with fine dining facilities and a bar.

Electric shuttle bus

Although car use would be discouraged and an electric shuttle bus provided for guests and staff, the plans included 87 parking spaces. The old staff accommodation would be removed and staff would live off site.

While enjoying fabulous sea views, the hotel is currently in urgent need of major improvement work. It has 106 guest rooms and 60 rooms for staff, although not all are in use. There are about 70 spaces for vehicles.

Knoll House Hotel plans
Knoll House

The new accommodation buildings (marked in a brown outline) would be higher than the hotel at the front of the site

Objections to the planning application

The National Trust, Natural England, Dorset AONB and Studland Parish Council all objected to the planning application.

Grounds included overdevelopment of the site, the adverse impact on the environment, an increased recreational pressure on the heathland and the lack of provision for parking for the number of guests.

The Dorset Council planning officer gave a presentation to councillors and recommended that they refuse the plans partly on grounds that the scale, form and massing of the major development was inappropriate for an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Knoll House Hotel plans
Knoll House

The proposed layout

Speaking in favour of the economic benefits

The first councillor to speak in the debate was Cherry Brooks, whose ward includes Studland. She urged councillors to have courage and reject the planning officer’s recommendation as she considered that the benefits of the development outweighed the harm. Speaking at the online meeting she said:

“The hotel is at a stage where it needs major investment to bring it up to the standard required by customer’s nowadays and we have a huge opportunity to do that and to develop a world class hotel in our area, providing good jobs with progression and qualifications, not part time low level jobs as we see in parts of the hospitality sector.

“Make no mistake, if there is no investment now, the existing development will become uneconomic to run and we will be faced with a much bigger issue than we have today.”

“Bring prosperity to residents and give them these jobs

Reiterating Cherry Brooks’ remarks was councillor Gary Suttle who represents Swanage and former Dorset Council portfolio holder for economic growth. He said:

“I’ve rarely been so excited to get such an investment into Purbeck with the promise of over 200 jobs. This is a significant bonus for us.

“The site itself is not going to be any larger…it will be a greater mass but not cover a greater area.

“Be brave and support the mission statement of Dorset Council to bring prosperity to residents and give them these jobs which are long term careers…which are few and far between in Swanage and Studland.”

Knoll House hotel aerial view
Knoll House

Aerial view of the existing hotel

Knoll House Hotel redevelopment plan aerial view
Knoll House

Aerial view of the proposed redevelopment

Reservations about the plans

Both Cherry Brooks and Gary Suttle were allowed to speak as local councillors but aren’t on the planning committee so weren’t able to vote.

It was clear that those who were on the planning committee had reservations about the proposals and couldn’t be quite as enthusiastic. Councillor Alex Brenton said:

“I’m all in favour of redevelopment there but I am concerned, particularly about the mass of the buildings at the back…

“It seems from the plans like a bit of a prison block of a building. This is a very urban slab design – fine if you’re in Bournemouth but hardly ‘light touch’, which you’d hope for on a site like this. Even if it’s all grey and brown, it is still a massive urban design.”

“I’m on the proverbial horns of a dilemma”

Councillor Bill Trite, planning committee member and who also represents Swanage said:

“I certainly share councillor Brenton’s concerns about aspects of design and I share concerns of scale and massing, the proximity to protected areas and so forth.

“On the other hand, I recognise the need for something quite radical to be done here and done pretty soon to return and ensure future viability of this well established and large scale facility. The solution I suggest is an amended application…

“So I’m on the proverbial horns of a dilemma to come to a balanced conclusion in this particularly difficult case.”

“Economic benefit versus the environmental planning considerations”

Chair of the committee, councillor Toni Coombs concluded:

“I think there is a general consensus across the board that we would like to see redevelopment of the site but what we’ve got hanging in the balance is the economic benefit versus the environmental planning considerations, which make it a very difficult decision.”

Councillor Shane Bartlett then proposed a motion to back the officer’s recommendation to turn down the plans, but he added that he hoped that a better design would come forward in the future. This was passed unanimously.

Knoll House hotel redevelopment plans of the front of the hotel
Knoll House

Architect’s impression of the new hotel frontage

“We were naturally very disappointed”

Speaking after the meeting, Knoll House Hotel’s general manager, Donovan Van Staden said:

“We were naturally very disappointed about the decision relating to our planning application for the creation of a world class hotel.

“We listened with interest to what the committee had to say. There was a lot of useful feedback and insight which we are now taking away to review and consider our options.

“Our commitment to Knoll House Hotel continues, as does our positivity surrounding the eventual delivery of a world class hospitality offering that provides high quality experiences to our visitors, both national and local, and career progression to members of our community.

“The economic benefit is clear, as endorsed by Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Dorset LEP, so we hope there will soon be a way forward to secure this wonderful opportunity for a significant high quality investment.

“Our next steps will be announced in due course.”

View of the sea from Knoll House Hotel
Knoll House

Long distance views from the hotel towards the Old Harry Rocks

“It’s time for a Plan B”

Studland Parish Council had hoped that ahead of the planning meeting, the planners at Dorset Council and Kingfisher Group would have found a solution that was acceptable to all sides.

Chair of Studland Parish Council, Nick Boulter said:

“As residents in Studland, we are very puzzled and frustrated that over three years the Kingfisher Group has not come forward with plans for the hotel that would be suitable for the area and sensitive to its positioning in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“We are all acutely aware that the hotel needs development, and we hope now that the Kingfisher Group will work with Studland Parish Council and with the Dorset planners to develop more appropriate plans. It’s time for a Plan B.”

Further information

  • The Knoll House Hotel planning application 6/2018/0566 is on the Dorset Council website
  • The Dorset Council’s planning officer report
  • The Knoll House Hotel website

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