Exeter: Go-ahead for fire-ravaged Royal Clarence Hotel to become luxury apartments

The fire-hit former Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter can be restored into luxury apartments after a £17million scheme was given the go-ahead. 

Plans for the landmark building – destroyed in a blaze sox years ago – were this week unanimously approved by city councillors, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

Proposals will see the front of the building returned to its ‘former glory’ and feature 23 two- and three-bedroom homes, a restaurant and a bar.

Construction work could start next summer and is expected to take around two years to complete.

The iconic Grade II listed premises overlooking Exeter Cathedral dates back to 1769.

Apartments will be spread over three floors and the project will also feature a new roof extension.

A restaurant and pub –  part of the reconstructed Well House Tavern – will be on the ground floor, as well as a commercial food and drink unit.

Members of Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee were told the design aims to ‘retain and showcase as many historical features of the remaining building fabric as possible’.

However, some parts of the remaining listed buildings around the site – including 6 Martin’s Lane – are ‘unsalvageable’ after being exposed to the elements for years and will need to be demolished.

Ian Collinson, director of city development, said the site was currently ‘an eyesore in what is otherwise a beautiful part of our city’.

He did, however, add that the proposed scheme would ‘result in substantial harm to what remains of those listed buildings’.

But his planning team believed any downsides will be outweighed by the public benefits of restoring the building and bringing it back to use.

The site is owned by Southwest Lifestyle Brands Ltd which is run by former Plymouth Argyle owner James Brent.

Mr Brent Tod councillors: “We clearly understand the emotional connection that the Royal Clarence building has with residents and visitors to the city and we’re very keen to see it return to its former glory to be enjoyed once more.”

He said previous plans for a 74-bed hotel, lodged before his firm bought the building, were ‘probably the most non-viable scheme I have come across’.

Council leader Phil Bialyk accepted that the luxury nature of the flats means they will not be within the reach of the ‘overwhelming majority of the people in Exeter’.

He added: “I think we really need to see that site and that part of town put right, and from what I can see I think it will be put right.

“It’s going to be a great improvement [and]I think people want to see it improved.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford said many people will be ‘sad’ the site will not be used as a hotel, but that the proposals ‘offer a very strong way forward’.

He added: “We do have a very strong wish that we get more residential use back into the city centre. It’s more sustainable, more balanced communities, and that’s the way forward.”

Cllr Diana Moore said: “When you consider what the alternative is, it would be worse because it would still be a derelict site and deteriorate further.”

Committee chair Cllr Emma Morse described the current site as ‘a scar that reminds us of that terrible weekend’, adding: “We can’t carry on with our Cathedral Green looking like this.”

Conditions of planning permission include a contribution towards ‘affordable’ housing – estimated at around £2million – which will be confirmed at a later date.

A four-month detailed design process will begin shortly, according to Mr Brent, followed by another viability check. Construction will then take just under 18 months to complete.

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