Converting a historic hospital into a 160-bed hotel will help Bath’s economy recover from the Covid pandemic, a developer has claimed.
The Fragrance Group has submitted scaled back plans for the grade II*-listed Royal Mineral Water Hospital, better known as the Min, after its previous bid was refused – a decision it is set to appeal.
The revised application says it has taken a new design approach, reduced the scale and mass of the extension, addressed residential amenity issues and improved biodiversity.
Fragrance Group said in its plans: “The proposals will secure the optimum viable use for the building, whilst at the same time facilitating some continued public access.
“The hotel will also be open to non-hotel guests for those using the restaurant, café/bars and visitors arriving for meetings. The hotel will also be open on several days a year for guided tours on the history of the building.”
It added: “It is strongly in the public interest that the vacant building, which occupies a prominent city centre site, is brought back into beneficial use to assist the city’s post-Covid recovery plan. A prolonged period of vacancy will be damaging to the economy of Bath’s city centre.”
Who are Fragrance Group?
The NHS ran the building as the Royal National Hospital For Rheumatic Diseases until December 2019 after selling the building to Winchester-based Versant UK Ltd for £15million.
It planned to turn the hospital into a hotel with shops on the ground floor but was unable to secure the necessary funding, so sold the site to Fragrance Group in 2018 for £21.5million.
The Singaporean investment firm, which has bought and converted a number of listed buildings in the UK, plans to spend a further £35million converting the building.
What happened to the previous scheme?
The previous scheme originally proposed a 167-bed hotel with a restaurant in the atrium linking the former hospital and the extension.
It was rejected after 187 objections and representations from the likes of the Bath Preservation Trust and the Federation of Bath Residents’ Associations.
Proposing refusal at the planning committee meeting last September, Councillor Sue Craig said: “I commend the applicants for the compromises to minimise the impact on the building, its setting and neighbours. However, I do have a problem with the size and mass of the extension.”
She said it would be many years before the habitat recovers and the Fragrance Group’s use of “every inch” of land for the extension would be overbearing for Parsonage Lane residents.
Cllr Manda Rigby said the extension would make life in the neighbouring properties “almost untenable”, adding: “For some of the flats on the lower floors, you’d almost have to stick your head out the window and turn it around to see any sky whatsoever.
“That’s not something we should be in favour of. It damages the residential amenity to such an extent it’s not counterbalanced by keeping the building in public use.”
Bath and North East Somerset Council did not object in principle to the conversion to a hotel.
What has the developer done?
The Fragrance Group brought in Bath firms Aaron Evans Architect and Greenhalgh Landscape Architecture to address the previous refusal reasons.
The changes include:
- An alternative design approach to the extension “considered to be appropriate to the surrounding context and the setting of the heritage asset”
- A reduced scale and mass for the extension, and the relationship to properties south of the site in Parsonage Lane has been addressed
- Demonstrating a policy compliant scheme in respect of residential amenity issues
- Relocating the roof top plant concealing it within the building envelope.
- Introducing opportunities to increase soft landscaping as part of an integrated approach to the design of the site and to significantly improve biodiversity
The development – inside Bath’s planned “ring of steel” – will be car free and only include 12 cycle parking spaces for staff.
B&NES Council will decide the fate of the application.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter