With a decision that defied the wishes of many local people South Oxfordshire District Council has turned down an application from Leaderboard Golf Ltd that would have seen an extension to the existing clubhouse creating a 50 bedroom hotel and additional leisure facilities.
Although the spokesman for the Thame branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England was delighted, the decision is contrary to the wishes of Thame Town Council and the local parish councils of Great Haseley and Tetsworth, all of whom had considered that the application should be approved, with the Tetsworth Parish Council stating that the development ‘could be beneficial to our village’.
Leaderboard had submitted that a 50 bedroom hotel was considered to be the level of accommodation required to compete on equal terms with other golf courses to host the international professional golf tournaments that the club was originally designed to host.
In addition the hotel was required to widen The Oxfordshire’s appeal as an existing high quality golfing and conference venue.
The hotel was to be located to the south of the existing clubhouse in an area currently taken by a range of service buildings. The ground level of the site of the hotel is over 8 metres lower than the car park to the clubhouse and 5m lower than the ground floor of the front of clubhouse.
The applicants argued therefore that the site is largely hidden from both long and short distance views by the existing clubhouse and the mounding at the rear.
Speaking on behalf of CPRE Michael Tyce, chairman of the Thame branch, told members of the planning committee that he rejected the idea that having an on site hotel is an essential prerequisite for a successful host venue. “There is no hotel at the home of golf: ‘Royal St Andrews’,” he stated confidently, “nor at Carnoustie which hosted The Open Championship just last month.”
Warming to his task Mr Tyce went on to describe the proposed hotel as ‘a blot on the landscape’ which occupied a prominent position “visible across miles of open countryside all the way from the Chilterns AONB, making it a very large blot indeed.”
For the Council’s planning officers the proposal for a hotel in a relatively isolated and elevated position in a location which, due to lack of public transport, is unsustainable was a breach of so many different planning policies and guidance notes that the application should be refused.
They were unmoved by arguments from consultants acting for Leaderboard, who had said that in this case there might be circumstances which would outweigh the normal policy considerations, even though Oxfordshire County Council, as the structure plan authority, had itself identified just such a possibility and despite support for the proposal coming from Tourism South East. There was a presumption, argued the planners, that hotels should be sited in town centres.
By a majority of 11 votes to 1 the planning committee, which did not make an official site visit to The Oxfordshire, decided to follow the recommendation of its officials.
A spokesman for Leaderboard said yesterday, “We were surprised by the decision as it had been recommended by the three local parish/town councils. The Oxfordshire Golf Club retains ambitions to host major events and a hotel would be a prerequisite for any such venture. It would also bring increased tourism revenue and more jobs to the region.”
It is understood that Leaderboard Golf Ltd is now considering whether to appeal against the decision and ask a government planning inspector to decide the issue.