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Businessman loses patience with Tonbridge and Malling council after it fails to determine planning application for Hadlow Manor Hotel in two years

A former hotel and wedding venue that closed 18 months ago has been targeted by vandals while the owner’s attempts to redevelop it have been dogged by delays.

Geoffrey Goddard applied to Tonbridge and Malling council for permission to repurpose the Hadlow Manor Hotel at Goose Green even earlier - in June 2022 - but has been given no decision in the two years since.

Concrete blocks prevent entry to the former Hadlow Manor Hotel
Concrete blocks prevent entry to the former Hadlow Manor Hotel

Now a frustrated Mr Goddard has appealed to the planning inspectorate on the grounds of non-determination, as councils are supposed to determine applications within eight weeks.

He is seeking permission to convert the original listed Georgian hotel building into six flats.

He also wants to knock down an extension dating from the 1980s, and build in its place six detached homes, making 12 in total.

The property has been vacant since the end of January last year and has been subject to vandalism, despite being protected by CCTV.

Villagers have expressed concern for its future. One said: “It would only take one yob to get in there and start a fire and the listed building could be lost.”

The rather sad-looking Georgian facade of the Hadlow Manor Hotel
The rather sad-looking Georgian facade of the Hadlow Manor Hotel

In his submission to the inspectorate, Mr Goddard alleges inefficiency on the part of the council, which has seen his case dealt with by several planning officers.

His agent said: “A number of statements were made by the first planning officer which were later confirmed by subsequent officers to be incorrect or misleading.

“Communications were difficult throughout, with long delays between email responses and an inability to contact officers via phone.”

Mr Goddard filed a formal complaint with the council over the delays after which a new officer was assigned to the application and the original officer left the authority.

However, the new officer asked for a time extension so additional consultations could be carried out.

The modern extension to the Hadlow Manor Hotel
The modern extension to the Hadlow Manor Hotel

The agent said: “Communications remained extremely difficult throughout this period, with in excess of 50 calls made to the local authority in their specified call hours which were not picked up by the allocated officer, and repeated requests for meetings were ignored.

“Emails were rarely answered directly, and contact was often only re-established to request additional extensions of time.”

Finally, in November last year, Mr Goddard was told the planning officer would recommend the application for approval in his report.

But there remained the issues of drafting a Section 106 agreement by the council, which is a legal contract requiring Mr Goddard to commit to certain mitigation measures.

However, to date, the council has failed to produce a draft agreement for him to sign.

Mr Goddard finally lodged an appeal, claiming the council was acting unreasonably, leading him to incur substantial additional costs.

Vandalism at the disused Hadlow Manor Hotel
Vandalism at the disused Hadlow Manor Hotel
Vandals have smashed windows in the outbuildings at the Hadlow Manor Hotel
Vandals have smashed windows in the outbuildings at the Hadlow Manor Hotel

A spokesman for Tonbridge and Malling council said: “This is a complex application for a major development that required what’s known as a section 106 agreement which required a great deal of officer time.

“While we sought to determine the application within the time limit, additional factors, including officer turnover and implementation of a new IT system, did slow things down.

“The application will now be determined by the Planning Inspectorate.”

Curiously, after Mr Gooddard lodged his appeal, and two years after the application was first submitted, the council posted a notice on its Facebook page notifying people of the application and inviting comments.

A spokesman said: “There is nothing unusual about it – we routinely publicise significant projects like this.”

The council's post
The council's post

To date, the council has received only one extra comment, from a resident in Darwins Drive, who said: “I have no objection to the development of this site.

“Anything is better than a derelict building.”

The original part of Hadlow Manor Hotel was built in 1790 as a replacement for a former timber-framed building dating from the 1500s. It was known then as Leaver’s House.

Details of the planning application can be viewed on the Tonbridge and Malling website, under application number 22/01237.

Find out about planning applications that affect you at the Public Notice Portal.

Mr Goddard’s company, CQK Ltd, owns two other hotels, both in Surrey - the Reigate Manor Hotel and the Hartsfield Manor Hotel.

In its last accounts, to March 2023, the company recorded a profit of £788,000 from a turnover of nearly £8 million.

When the Hadlow Manor Hotel closed abruptly in January last year, 37 couples who had booked the venue for their wedding reception were left in the lurch, although their deposits were returned.

Twenty-nine members of staff lost their jobs. The company said the venue was no longer economically viable.

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