Published: 15:26, 26 August 2020
| Updated: 15:45, 26 August 2020
Plans for Port Lympne's highly anticipated Giraffe Hall have been given the go-ahead, despite fears it will harm the landscape.
Thousands of people are already on the waiting list to stay in the unique new boutique hotel set for the wild animal park in Lympne, near Hythe , and owned by the Aspinall Foundation.
It is destined to be created in run-down French House - a Grade II-listed property which dates back to the 15th century - which will be restored and transformed to create 10 luxury en-suite bedrooms.
Five sleeping pods will be set up in the grounds, offering accommodation for up to four guests each, meaning overall 40 guests maximum will stay at Giraffe Hall at one time.
All rooms and pods will offer views over Romney Marsh , the coast and the giraffe enclosure.
An existing restaurant, The Lapa, which is located to the south of French House, will be extended and renovated to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests, with an outside seating, bar and decking area.
An events building with a canopy is also planned to be constructed within the grounds offering a site for weddings and conferences.
A new access road will be created from Aldington Road to reach the hotel, and a 50 space car park will be built.
But at last night's planning meeting of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, it was the new access road which proved the most contentious.
Three people - a nearby resident, district councillor John Wing (Green) and a representative from Lympne Parish Council - spoke against the proposal during the virtual meeting.
Their objections ranged from concerns about noise that the new venue will create, size of the car park, loss of privacy to residents, disruption caused by extra traffic, and harm to the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), within which the hotel will sit.
Members of the planning committee also raised their fears.
Cllr Jim Martin (Green) said while he supports the needed renovation of French House, he has "major concerns" about the access road and car parking.
He questioned whether the animal park's existing large car park could not be used for guest's cars, and then people transported to the hotel in a buggy.
Planning officers advised it was quite far, and added the new road would also provide access for emergency vehicles to the site.
Cllr Gary Fuller (Lib Dem) also queried whether the car park could be moved closer to Aldington Road, while Cllr Georgina Treloar (Green) said she worried about "carving up" the AONB.
Cllr Jackie Meade (Lab) said she supported the renovation of French House and said the project would be good for local employment, but wanted to remind councillors of their responsibility to enhance and protect the AONB.
She added: "I don't think putting a car park and road on the AONB is conserving or enhancing it."
Cllr Jenny Hollingsbee (Con) noted that most members seemed happy with the hotel's development, and that as the sticking point was coming down to the road asked officers if there were any other ways it could be improved.
Officers noted that the road would already be "fairly well screened" and as it was on Port Lympne's existing land it means they can maintain it.
After an hour spent on the scheme, it was voted through with five votes in favour and three against.
Three councillors also abstained.
The accommodation will be one of several dotted around the site at Lympne, with the others including Lion Lodge, Hod Deer Creek and the Forest Hideway.