A series of confidential meetings have taken place in an attempt to garner support for a new three-storey hotel, restaurant and visitor centre on Castle Hill in Huddersfield.
Agents acting for developers Mick and Barry Thandi, who owned the former Castle Hill Hotel, have engaged in “extended and in-depth consultation” with officers employed by Kirklees Council.
They have also met with representatives of Historic England, which lists important places such as battlefields, buildings and monuments. Their input is said to have been “invaluable”.
Plans and a model representing the latest design for Castle Hill were unveiled late last year.
And in their updated planning support statement architects and interior designers One17 have outlined how visitor facilities at Castle Hill could constitute “very special circumstances” that could ease the plan to fruition.
However they are clear that to avoid the need for a financial subsidy from cash-strapped Kirklees Council the visitor element would need support from “commercial content” – the restaurant/hotel.
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The debate over the 4,000-year-old Neolithic site overlooking Almondbury – Huddersfield’s best-known landmark – has raged for 15 years, since the former Castle Hill Hotel was demolished in 2005.
Kirklees Council owns the freehold of the land formerly occupied by the hotel. The Thandis are tenants on a 999-year lease, paying rent of just £7.63 per annum.
Opponents of development say whilst the Thandis are persevering with their scheme, which has gone through more than half a dozen versions, planning law prevents a new building on the site.
Coun Bernard McGuin, who has described the latest plans as resembling “a branch of McDonald’s”, was not convinced by the new approach.
He said: “The development is a money-making machine. The viewing room is an add-on. When they destroyed the old pub that site reverted back to green belt. They have got to show that any building will enhance the green belt. They have not shown that.”
His Almondbury ward colleague Coun Alison Munro said the council was faced with contemplating a planning application that was “detrimental” to the iconic status of the hill, to heritage and to the natural environment if visitor numbers were to increase.
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She added: “I seriously question if it will be worth it.”
Among others who object to a new building on Castle Hill are Green councillors Andrew Cooper, Karen Allison and Sue-Lee Richards.
Speaking collectively they said the Thandis were seeking “to make a political case and to prove that case to politicians who are sympathetic”.
They added: “They are trying to push that as much as they can. The question we have is whether they have any political backing behind their latest plan. Otherwise it’s just words.
“We visited Castle Hill over the Christmas holidays and saw many people there. They appreciate Castle Hill for its natural beauty. They do not need extra buildings or facilities. In fact the majority of people do not want anything at all built up there.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for Huddersfield Civic Society rejected the suggestion that the Thandis’ proposal falls within the exemption of ‘provision of essential facilities for outdoor education and recreation’.
He added: “The provision of extensive food and drink facilities, not exclusively provided for the enjoyment of the green belt, does not fall within the intended exceptional circumstances, a point acknowledged in the planning report put to committee last January.
“Worryingly, material supporting the application includes numerous references to discussions with Historic England and various Kirklees departments indicating ‘contributions’ (whether for or against is unclear) on height, scale and heritage aspects of a development not permissible under national policy.”
He said an unknown amount of the three-storey building proposed by the Thandis would be underground.