Boutique hotel rejected over 'unsympathetic changes' and impact on area

Plans to transform a city centre building that was formerly used as a squat into a boutique hotel have been rejected over concerns about "unsympathetic changes". The Mary Le Port Hotel was planned to open on 39-40 High Street in Bristol city centre and have at least nine bedrooms.

Bristol Live previously reported Mugshot Restaurants Limited signed a 25-year lease with Bristol City Council on the historic building, situated within a conservation area. But The Planning Inspectorate dismissed an appeal and planning permission for a change of use over grounds of a loss of a pub and impact on the surrounding area.

The Government takeover of some of Bristol City Council’s planning department started last month. Ministers put Bristol City Council into special measures in March after ruling that the time taken to decide on hundreds of planning applications made by Bristol’s residents and businesses was far too long, and there were no signs that the then-ruling Labour administration was sorting out the backlog.

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Mugshot Restaurants Limited director Adam Bryan referred the application to The Planning Inspectorate after Bristol City Council failed to make a decision on the application within the requisite period. Bristol City Council meanwhile confirmed to The Planning Inspectorate they would have likely refused the plans.

In a report by inspector Helen O'Connor of The Planning Inspectorate, she gave four clear reasons to reject the application, namely:

  • Whether the proposal would result in the unnecessary loss of a public house with reference to local and national planning policies.

  • The effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area having particular regard to whether it would preserve or enhance the City and Queen Square Conservation Area (CA) and nearby listed buildings.

  • Whether suitable provision would be made for refuse storage.

  • Whether adequate renewable energy generation would be provided having regard to local planning policies

It was formerly the Looking Glass pub before closing down around 10 years ago and becoming derelict. Back in 2021, the building was occupied by squatters who at the time said the building was being used as a community space and a solution to homelessness.

A closure order was then enforced by police in relation to three squatted properties on High Street. The force said this was necessary as there had been "escalating criminality and antisocial behaviour (ASB)" at 39-40, 45 and 46 High Street — addresses which squatters had occupied.

The report observed: "There is very little information provided in either respect by the appellant in this case, other than reference to the longstanding vacancy and stating that the area needs investment. There is nothing to explain why the public house closed nor what efforts there have been to reopen it since.

"As neither of the exceptions in policy DM6 are clearly demonstrated it follows that the presumption to protect against the loss of the public house use applies."

Within the changes, the hotel would have introduced a roof extension to create the ninth room of the hotel. Described as a "shepherd’s hut style room", The Planning Inspectorate observed this "would have little in common with the architectural detailing or symmetry of the main elevation and would read as an incongruous and somewhat crude addition."

The report also observed an associated balustrade above the parapet wall, terrace and hot tub "would exacerbate the unsympathetic effect" and "probable human activity on the terrace would draw the eye." They added the roof extension would be "unsympathetic to the character and appearance of the appeal building".

Wider concerns in the appeal decision included inadequate bin storage for the nine-bedroom hotel and a lack of plans to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions from energy use.

The report did concede the proposals would bring the building back into use and likely bring investment that would improve the condition of the building and area. It also added the boutique hotel may also have knock-on economic benefits for other businesses nearby.

Photos within the planning application showed the building in a run-down state, with litter, damage, graffiti and mess around the site. However Ms O'Connor felt the impacts on the local area and "unsympathetic" changes were sufficient reasons to reject the change of use application.

Ms O'Connor concluded: "Planning law requires applications for planning permission be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Whilst there would be benefits arising from the development, particularly by bringing an unused building back into productive use and reinstating an active ground floor frontage, I am not convinced that the appeal scheme would be the only means of doing so.

"As such, the possibility of securing similar benefits whilst avoiding the development plan policy conflicts identified cannot be ruled out.

"Consequently, I do not find that there are material considerations that would justify determining the proposal other than in accordance with the development plan. Therefore, for the reasons given above I conclude that the appeal should be dismissed, and planning permission refused."

The full planning application and report can be found through this link or under reference 23/00054/F.