Tourism chief hits out at NPA plan to hike ‘hotel tax’

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New Forest hotels
Planning bids by New Forest hotels, such as the Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst, could be affected

PROPOSALS to nearly triple a planning charge for new hotel rooms in the New Forest have been slammed as an unfair “tax” by a district tourism chief – who has suggested imposing car park fees instead.

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The national park authority is looking at raising the fee it demands from hospitality developments, as well as care homes and housing, from £1,250 per extra bedroom to £3,512.

The cash is paid under its Habitat Mitigation Scheme as part of planning permissions and is used to fund schemes that offset the pressures on local protected sites from additional people coming to the area.

It was first introduced in 2012 but plans for the latest rise have sparked a fresh attack by Anthony Climpson, chief executive at local tourism group Go New Forest. He said it punished New Forest hotels which were trying to strengthen their businesses in a competitive market.

New Forest hotels
Anthony Climpson is chief executive of Go New Forest

As reported in the A&T, the Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst has recently applied for permission from the NPA to expand its operation from 56 rooms to 94.

Mr Climpson suggested a fairer solution might be instead to impose charges at the New Forest’s network of gravel car parks which are currently free.

He said:  “What we are saying as an industry is that it is unfair for one element of the local economic community, which will create such a minute number of visits from any new development, to be so heavily taxed simply for trying to keep their business viable.

“The New Forest already has 15-million visits every year, so as a ‘national’ park recreational mitigation should be paid for nationally or, failing that, by raising a fair charge on those who actually use it.”

In a formal response to the NPA consultation, Mr Climpson insisted a fairer way of funding mitigation for development would be a “charge by use/visit” system with revenue shared with Forestry England.

Car park charging had often been discussed as a funding source but “various reasons” had been found to avoid the issue, he claimed.

“It is just one example of how revenue could be fairly raised to pay for the forest’s recreational mitigation and management,” Mr Climpson said. “

If we pay for parking in our towns and villages then why aren’t we paying for parking in the Forest?”

In response, the NPA argued that the increase was necessary for longer term protection as part of its statutory duty to defend important habitats. The system was similar to other local authorities, it said – including New Forest District Council.

The money will pay for more rangers, manage access to designated sites, and create alternative greenspace areas, monitoring, research and in-perpetuity funding.

An NPA spokesperson said: “When we grant planning permission for new visitor accommodation, we’re legally required to ensure adverse impacts on the New Forest’s protected habitats are mitigated in just the same way as from new residential development.

“The visitor economy is therefore not being singled out and is being treated the same way as other forms of development that increase visitors to the New Forest’s protected habitats.”

She added: “The financial contributions sought are proportionate to the scale of the new development and are designed to mitigate the impacts created by that specific additional new development, not the existing 15.2-million people already visiting the national park.”

The NPA also pointed out that rather than make payments, applicants – including New Forest hotels – do have the option of proposing their own mitigation schemes.

The proposed increase has gone out to consultation before a decision will be made whether to adopt it at the NPA’s next meeting March.

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