Decision due on plans for £60m redevelopment of Studland hotel

Ambitious proposals for Knoll House Hotel in Studland to be transformed into a luxury five star resort are to be considered imminently by Dorset Council’s planning committee.

The hotel’s owner Kingfisher Resorts submitted the application in 2018 but there have been planning delays due to the Covid pandemic and the environmentally sensitive location of the proposed building work.

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Now the plans will go in front of Dorset Council’s eastern area planning committee for a decision at its next meeting on Wednesday 9th February 2022.

The council’s planning department has recommended refusal. In its report it concludes:

“The proposal by reason of its scale, form and massing fails to ensure that there would be no detrimental effect upon the environment and natural landscape and fails to be compatible to the special character of the Heritage Coast. This impact has been considered against the substantial local economic benefits.”

However the final decision will be down to councillors.

The existing frontage of Knoll House Hotel
Knoll House

The existing hotel was built in 1931

Famous for Enid Blyton and Del Boy

Knoll House Hotel on Ferry Road in Studland was originally built in 1931 and is famous for being a favourite place to stay for the children’s author Enid Blyton who based many of her books on the local area.

The hotel was used as a filming location in a classic episode of the BBC comedy, Only Fools and Horses, when Del and Rodney went on holiday to Spain, although in reality they were in Studland at the hotel’s swimming pool.

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

The new proposed frontage will be extended

Open meeting for local residents

Prior to Dorset Council’s decision, Studland Parish Council and Knoll House Hotel management held an open meeting on Monday 31st January 2022 for local residents to be updated with the latest information.

The proposal is to redevelop the existing hotel building, keeping only the central section of the main hotel that faces Ferry Road. The plans include creating 30 hotel rooms, 41 new holiday apartments, 6 villas and 16 maisonettes. There are currently 106 guest rooms and 60 rooms for staff, although not all are in use.

There will be a luxury spa with indoor and outdoor pools along with fine dining facilities and a bar.

The old staff accommodation behind the current hotel will be removed and not replaced, as employees will in future live off-site. Car parking will be limited to 87 spaces. The hotel proposes to run an electric powered bus service to pick up staff and visitors.

“Best economic solution for this special place”

Addressing the local residents, the hotel manager for Knoll House Hotel, Donovan Van Staden said:

“Since the proposals were first submitted back in 2018, the world has changed and the impact of Covid and Brexit has taken its toll on the hospitality industry, and especially a tired product such as the existing Knoll House Hotel.

“It is becoming difficult to attract and retain good staff and the quality of offering no longer satisfies the needs of visiting guests. The opportunity for a world class five star resort which local residents can enjoy alongside visitors is the best economic solution for this special place.

“We are currently forced to sell rooms at increasingly low prices which is not sustainable for the future. The hotel as it stands doesn’t just need thousands spent on it to make it fit for purpose, it needs millions.”

Kingfisher Resorts says there is a strong economic argument to approve the planning permission, as it will bring investment into the area and provide more employment with a significant increase in staff numbers.

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

The National Trust, Natural England and Dorset AONB organisations all object

The hotel is in an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) and backs onto protected heathland. The National Trust, Natural England and Dorset AONB organisations all object to the planning application. Grounds include overdevelopment of the site, the adverse impact on the environment and an increased recreational pressure on the heathland.

Planning consultant acting for Kingfisher Resorts, Ben Read said that measures to mitigate the impact would be introduced, including creating designated walks nearby to avoid more visitors walking across the heathland.

The National Trust has pointed out that this is on its land that is only leased to the hotel, so is not something that the hotel can guarantee in the long term.

“Minimal impact to the beautiful heathland

Donovan Van Staden said:

“It’s a complex proposal which has taken three years to get to this stage due to the nature of its location and the need to consult closely with key organisations such as Natural England and the National Trust.

“We believe that we are reaching conclusions surrounding their concerns where mitigations, or enhancements as we see them, will be included in a legally binding agreement to ensure any new hotel on the site continues to commit to ensuring minimal impact to the beautiful heathland of which we are all proud.”

He also pointed out that the luxury aspect of the new resort would encourage guests to stay on site, enjoying the new leisure facilities.

Ben Read added that the new buildings would be on a smaller footprint than the current development and would be more energy efficient. There would be electric vehicle charging points and a new woodland management plan including additional tree planting.

View of the sea from Knoll House Hotel
Knoll House

Stunning sea views from the hotel of Studland Bay and Old Harry Rocks

Studland Parish Council has also objected

Studland Parish Council has also objected to the proposal. In its submission it said it opposed the redevelopment due to its “size, mass, and impact of the development, harm to designations, and inadequate parking”.

One of the parish council’s concerns is that staff, who will in future be living off site, will inevitably want to drive to work and without on-site staff parking, they will park on local roads.

There is also scepticism that 87 parking spaces will be enough at peak times, to cater for all guests staying in the accommodation – 30 hotel rooms and the 63 apartments, villas and maisonettes.

Free electric-powered bus

The hotel management explained that they were confident that staff would view being able to catch a free electric-powered bus to work as a perk as it would save them money.

There is also a possibility of Kingfisher Resorts investing in accommodation for its staff in Swanage, Poole or Bournemouth, with the bus picking up directly from these locations, offering an attractive staff package.

Swimming pool at Una Resort in Cornwall
Una St Ives

The company has just finished creating Una St Ives with this indoor swimming pool

Expected to cost £60m

The redevelopment if it is approved, is expected to cost £60m and Kingfisher Resorts management says it will be financed by a tried and tested method that has worked for the company before.

Accommodation units are sold to individual investors and they are able to use the property for their own holidays for six weeks of the year, with the remaining 46 weeks let by the hotel, in the same way as any of the other hotel rooms.

In addition to six weeks of use, the investor receives a 4.5 percent return on their investment. The company is keen to stress this isn’t a timeshare scheme but is a property investment with a return, plus the attraction of a holiday base without the hassle of maintaining it.

The company says this is the same successful financing model that it has used at its new Una resort in St Ives in Cornwall and at Martinhal Sagres in the Algarve in Portugal, which it previously developed and launched.

Room at Hotel Martinhal in Portugal
Hotel Martinhal

A room at Hotel Martinhal in the Algarve – a project which Kingfisher Resorts previously developed and launched.

About two thirds were in favour of the proposals

At the end of the open meeting attended by about 50 residents, the chair of Studland Parish Council, Nick Boulter asked for a show of hands in favour of the application, against and not decided. About two thirds were in favour of the proposals, with four against and a few undecided.

Afterwards, Donovan Van Staden said:

“We were pleased to see so many residents attend the Studland Parish Council meeting. It was a great opportunity to answer the many important questions surrounding the Knoll House Hotel scheme. To see a show of hands at the end of the meeting largely in support of our proposals was reassuring.

“We also hope local residents will take up the opportunity, if we get planning approval, to use the cutting-edge leisure facilities themselves, which they will be entitled to do at discounted prices.

“We hope we have allayed some fears or misunderstandings about our plans and demonstrated we are happy to be open and transparent. We are committed to Knoll House Hotel for the long term and want it to be something the whole county is proud of.”

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
  • Kingfisher Resorts’ hotels in Cornwall and its former development project in the Algarve

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