A wildlife lover is leading the fight against plans to convert a historic Bath hospital into a luxury hotel with a “massive extension” that will “blight” her neighbours’ lives.
Helen Wilmot’s campaign has been backed by film director Ken Loach, who blasted developer Fragrance Group for “maximising profit at the expense of a quiet area in the heart of the city”.
The investment firm hopes to turn the Royal Mineral Water Hospital into a 167-bed hotel, complete with a spa and restaurant.
Its proposals – which have been revised after “extensive” consultation – have been tipped for approval next week after Bath and North East Somerset Council said securing a sustainable future for the Grade II*-listed building outweighed the harm that would be caused.
Ms Wilmot, who currently looks out onto trees and a view of the hospital from her flat behind Westgate Street, said: “We will lose the rich biodiversity. If the trees go, the birds go.
“The extension itself will be so high and in such close proximity to us that some residents will have their sky and daylight blocked out. This is ignored. It makes me despair.
“This whole issue has affected my health and caused me a great deal of emotional turmoil, but I will continue to fight on and urge others to join me, because we need to stop our city being ruthlessly exploited by tycoon property developers driven by greed. Our city needs to be a pleasant place to live.”
She criticised the consultations held by the developer, saying it had only “paid lip service” to residents’ concerns.
Some 187 people have objected to the proposals.
Mr Loach, the Bath-based director of I, Daniel Blake, said: “The proposed hotel extension is big, overbearing, and will ruin a necessary open space.
“A hotel chain, with no connection to Bath has one aim: to maximise profit at the expense of a quiet area in the heart of the city.”
The council has declared a climate emergency. Jane Samson, the interim chair of Bath Labour Party, said that meant it should be protecting trees.
She added: “The city needs housing rather than hotel rooms, but our biggest objection is to the extension which cramps the area so that the residents lose their sun and skylight and have an oppressive building close up to their windows. This is unnecessary and robs the city of a green space.”
A spokesperson for the Fragrance Group said the proposals had been “carefully refined in light of extensive consultation”, with changes to the garden area and more traditional materials for the extension.
Speaking on behalf of the firm, Martin Rogers of the Global Hotels and Leisure Consultancy said most bidders when the NHS put the hospital on the market wanted to turn it into a hotel, and it remains the best way to ensure it has sustainable long-term future.
He added: “The multi-million pound inward investment we are proposing, as well as the creation of new, secure jobs in the construction and operational phases of the project, will be of vital importance to the city of Bath and the wider area as it begins its economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are keen to press ahead with our plans as soon as we can so the new hotel can help contribute to the local economy, while protecting and celebrating the building’s role in the history of the city.”
B&NES Council was unable to comment ahead of the planning committee’s decision on the plans on 26th August.
The authority’s planning officers have recommended approval of the development.
They said: “Whilst the evidence indicates that there is no need for additional hotel accommodation, it is not for the planning system in this context, to intervene in the operation of the market or protect individual businesses/hotel operators.
“Securing the optimum viable use for this building is essential to achieve a successful sustainable outcome for this site.
“The development will have an impact upon the neighbouring occupiers and will change how they experience the site. However, the development will not result in a situation where they no longer have appropriate living conditions in this city centre location.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter