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Wisbech tourism collapse means 34-bedroom annex can become HMO

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Elme Hall Hotel, Wisbech, is set to win its bid to turn its 34-bedroom motel complex into a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) for up to 39 people.

Occupancy of the complex will be split upon a 50/50 basis with half the rooms for single people and the other double occupancy.

There are also a number of rooms that will be set aside as mobility friendly. Four communal rooms will be provided including a lounge and a kitchen/diner on each floor.

Owners hope the change of use will enable them to re-open the main eight-bedroom hotel.

Collapse in the number of tourists coming to West Norfolk – and especially to Wisbech – is now accepted by planners as a valid reason to allow the change of use.

In May West Norfolk Council rejected a similar application for fear of losing tourism accommodation but they have reconsidered.

“The applicant argues that tourism in West Norfolk is declining, and within Wisbech even further,” says a report to the council’s planning committee.

“Comparing 2021 visitor figures with pre-pandemic levels there is a 25% reduction in overnight trips and a 29% reduction in overnight trip value”.

The committee – which meets on Monday – will hear that the main building of Elme Hall Hotel has not been open to the public for a period of time, and the newer building is not considered an attractive place to stay.

“Figures have been provided from the hotel showing 15% and 21% fall in profit over the three years pre-covid,” says the report.

“Post Covid consumer spending on the hospitality sector is 70% of the pre-pandemic levels.

“Therefore, there is not the demand for hotel rooms, and the hotel in its current form is not viable.”

Officers say reference has been made to discussions during the planning committee meeting in May about accommodation for contractors working in the locality.

“The applicant states that the building could still be used by contractors on a short-term tenancy,” says the report.

“Searches have been conducted for alternative accommodation within the locality.

“There are 5 established hotels within 5 miles of the site, and within a wider area there are 18 hotels/ pubs/ accommodation available (via visitcambridgeshire website).

“Holiday accommodation has diversified with hotel closures, and alternative forms of accommodation such as glamping, house rentals etc.

34 bedroom motel annex to become HMO at Elme Hall Hotel

“The applicant points out in their statement that consent has recently been granted for the change of use of a hotel in Downham Market (The Castle Hotel) with little, if any, regard given to the loss of tourism.

“Furthermore, the Premier Inn at West Lynn has expanded with no regard to the impact of this on existing local accommodation.

“The applicant concludes that there has been a clear decline in tourism within West Norfolk, which has resulted in the hotel (in its current form) being unviable.”

The committee will be told that the hotel has been marketed for sale and there has been no interest because there is not enough trade to satisfy its need.

Owners say they conducted “vast market research” and concluded the site as the best viable location for an HMO to house people from Wisbech and its surrounding areas.

Property prices and availability of this type of accommodation is currently fuelling a gap in the market, they argued.

And with “the current economic climate, this demand and need for this type of housing is only set to increase further”.

Councillors will be told the main building, Elme Hall, will remain as a hotel.

Elme Hall Hotel, Wisbech; its 34 bedroom motel annex to become HMO

But the applicants say the site is no longer viable, primarily due to the decrease in the tourism sector together with the extensive expansion of the Premier Inn some 12 miles along the A47, having claimed the ‘contractor’ business.

It is hoped that by removing the 34 room motel style rooms, the use of the hotel is enhanced.

It is seen that, by taking away the motel style rooms, only a higher specification of room will be available for any visiting trade.

The committee all also hear that Wisbech Town Council supports the application and that Fenland District Council has no objection.

Earlier objections from Fenland “had been addressed”.

Fenland “still have some concern regarding the loss of tourism facilities within the district”.

However, “the case put forward as part of this submission is accepted, as is the argument that the HMO, as a consequence of the management regime to be followed, will not be detrimental to the operation of the existing Elme Hall Hotel”.

West Norfolk planners say the applicant has previously supplied marketing information for the application site.

The hotel has been for sale since March 2020.

“In addition, the Covid pandemic has severely impacted the business and net turnover has decreased from £680,000 (year-end April 2019) to £526,000 (year-end April 2020) to £135,000 (year end 2021),” says their report.

“The site has been marketed to a broad range of buyers; including those who acquire hotels for alternative employment uses such as care homes.

Advertising the proposals for change of use of Elme Hall Hotel motel rooms to HMO

“However there has been no serious interest forthcoming on this basis.”

Colliers (the agent) has received multiple offers from a broad range of buyers. The highest offers (by some margin) have been submitted from those seeking to redevelop the property for an alternative use such as HMO (as per the current applicant).

“Bids which retain the hotel use have been much lower reflecting the market conditions, the costs, risk, and time of ‘rebooting’ the business and concerns about increased competition given that planning permission has been granted for a new, nearby budget hotel,” says the report.

“The marketing information stated that the owner wishes to optimise the sale price and sell before having to close the business and leave Elme Hall as an empty, unused building.

“The applicant therefore states that the current use, with the current number of bedrooms is not viable.

“The intention of the applicant is to retain the main building as a hotel and convert the lodge building to an HMO.

“This change of use will then enable the applicant to then invest back into the hotel.”

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