Plans to expand Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons on Church Road in Great Milton have moved a step closer after planning permission was granted by South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee.
The committee voted five-four in favour - with one abstention - to approve the plans to revamp the five-star hotel made famous by TV chef Raymond Blanc .
The decision grants full planning permission for the erection of a new wellness spa, bistro, garden villas and rooms, and pavilions, with extensions and alterations to the existing Grade II* manor house and other buildings. The plans also include a new highway access and car parking areas.
The scale of encroachment into green belt land means the plans still need to be rubber-stamped by a government minister.
Mr Blanc, 72, bought the listed building in 1984 and developed it into a five-star hotel and two Michelin star restaurant. The site was acquired by luxury travel company Belmond in 2014, although Mr Blanc remains as chef-patron of the restaurant.
The plans include 31 new buildings or structures, resulting in a 75 per cent increase – an extra 4,000 square metres – to the floor space.
Parking capacity will increase from 90 to 250 vehicles, and around 30 trees will be felled. The vineyard and kitchen garden will be moved onto agricultural land to make way for buildings.
The district’s planning officers recommended approval based on “substantial public benefits, in the form of delivering economic, social or environmental objectives”, including extra employment, increased tourism and contributions made to a local bus service.
Concerns were raised by objectors over the expansion eating into green belt land and the volume of additional car journeys, particularly through Great Milton - issues which were acknowledged in the report.
It continued: “There is identified significant harm to the landscape, openness of the green belt and the public right of way, and there is low-level harm to the heritage assets.
“In balancing these harms, there are varying degrees of public benefit in terms of contributions to the economy, sustainability, the continued viable use of the heritage assets, enhanced biodiversity and infrastructure.
“Overall, your officers consider that these represent a considerable public benefit”, considerations which “justify the granting of planning permission”.
Councillors questioned the scale of the increase in parking provision, concerns over drainage and the loss of trees in pondering whether the right balance had been struck.
Councillor Elizabeth Gillespie (South Oxfordshire Residents Team, Garsington and Horspath) acknowledged “the need for updating” facilities but felt “the very fine balance” had to prioritise the harm done and voted against it.
Councillor Alan Thompson (Con, Didcot West) said the loss of trees and green space meant “there is no way I can support this at all”.
Councillor Ian Snowdon (Con, Didcot West) said the omission and subsequent reintroduction of solar panels amounted to “accepting harm purely to meet” environmental policies.
He added: “We cannot ignore the benefits of this business… we also saw on the site visit that this is clearly a company that cares about sustainability. This is not a normal developer trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”
He added his support based on the “honourable attempt at doing the best for the green belt”.