Iconic New Forest hotel makes expansion bid to ‘secure its future’

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Balmer Lawn Hotel
The Balmer Lawn Hotel dates back to the mid-1800s as a hunting lodge

MAJOR expansion plans have been launched for one of the New Forest’s most iconic hotels in what the owners say is a bid to secure its long-term future.

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Chris and Alison Wilson of the four-star Balmer Lawn Hotel on the edge of Brockenhurst want to add a two-storey extension and a pair of new buildings at the back containing 38 rooms – a near 70% increase on the current 56.

Two years in the planning, the designs also show more parking, new staff accommodation, and a one-way route around the hotel with a second access onto Balmer Lawn Road.

The application to the national park authority by the Wilsons follows a refusal in 2016 of their scheme to build six houses behind to raise funds to enlarge their business.

But Mr Wilson told the A&T this week: “The housing would not have been right for the hotel, looking back on it. What we are proposing will cement the future of the hotel for the next 50-plus years.”

Balmer Lawn Hotel
Proposed buildings to the rear of Balmer Lawn Hotel

The new plans would bring the total number of bedrooms to 94. Parking spaces would increase from 78 to 129, and up to 22 jobs would be created during the summer. About 60 full-time staff work there now.

In their application the Wilsons said they wanted to invest to avoid the fate of other well-known local hotels which have closed, such as the Lyndhurst Park Hotel and the Watersplash Hotel in Brockenhurst.

They pointed to a 2013 tourism report for Hampshire County Council which recommended that the priority for three and four-star hotels was “ongoing investment” to stay competitive in the leisure break and residential conference markets.

Balmer Lawn Hotel
Balmer Lawn Hotel owners Chris and Alison Wilson

Their plans said: “The proposals are a considered and comprehensive group of extensions and alterations designed to optimise the potential of the hotel so that it fills a gap in the market which other hotels in the area are not able to provide.

“Events which are currently being lost to Southampton, Bournemouth and other nearby towns and cities could be kept within the New Forest.

“As a result there would be complementary benefits and opportunities for wide-ranging businesses, venues and attractions throughout the local area.”

They added: “Furthermore, the future of the Balmer Lawn Hotel as a going concern would be assured.”

The scheme also features includes single-storey extensions including orangery-style addition to the banqueting/conference area.

There is also an outbuilding for staff bedrooms to help workers unable to afford the high property prices locally. Two outbuildings, outdoor pool and tennis courts would be removed, and solar panels and 100 more trees added.

The Wilsons said that if it was refused, they could fall back on a previously approved plan for a three-storey extension containing 26 rooms and improved kitchen facilities. It was agreed in 2006 and later renewed in 2010.

The couple bought the Balmer Lawn from Hilton in 1997, raising it from a three to four-star establishment 11 years later. Last year it was named Business of the Year in the New Forest Brilliance in Business Awards.

According to the plans, the lawn in front of the hotel – formerly “Palmer’s Lawn” – is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. The original part of the current building was built in the mid-1800s as a hunting lodge.

In the First World War it served as an army hospital, and in the Second World War as an army staff college and a base to prepare for the D-Day landings. It returned to being a hotel in the late-1940s before being badly damaged by a fire in the 1970s.

A decision on the extension plans by the NPA is scheduled after the deadline for public comments on 14th February.

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