05:46PM, Thursday 06 January 2022
Councillors scrutinised a planning application for a seating area just off the High Street (left)
The Castle Hotel in Windsor High Street is set to retain its outdoor seating after councillors were split on a retrospective application at a planning panel on Wednesday night.
Following a refusal to permit the seating area by officers, ward Cllr Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton and Castle) ‘called in’ the application, who stated benefits it would bring to the economic regeneration of Windsor, COVID-safety and tourism.
An outdoor seating area and pagoda was installed to aide social distancing.
However, for it to remain in place within the conservation area, the hotel was required to submit a retrospective planning application.
At the meeting, Cllr Rayner said: “It is vital for Windsor that we have a fabulous range of shops, restaurants and activities.
“Last year with opening up after lockdown, the outdoor seating area was essential to encourage people for dining.
“The Castle Hotel had done extremely well, has been very well received by local residents who have told me that it’s a welcome addition to the eateries in Windsor, and has built an excellent reputation with residents and tourists alike.”
Cllr Rayner added that the greenery and planting area was ‘attractive’ and had ‘a positive effect on the High Street’, while adding that some customers may prefer to sit outside whilst there is a heightened risk of catching COVID-19.
However, Maarten de Vries, who was speaking on behalf of his partner and two other residents in the neighbouring properties, asked councillors to refuse the application.
On Wednesday, he said: “We’ve always been on good terms with the hotel, and we would like to keep it that way.
“However, it’s one thing to open a temporary outdoor seating area as a way to get through the COVID crisis, but it’s another to completely fill this cramped and closed space with a large, odd-looking wooden structure, make it a permanent feature of the High Street, and turn the entrance of a car park, which was a natural dividing line between the hotel and our homes, into a permanent full-blown extension of their hospitality business.”
As the floor opened to debate, councillors were split on the issue.
Cllr Julian Sharpe (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill) said that he had seen the structure as brilliant ‘on a temporary basis’, but upon closer inspection in the previous week, he had been ‘disappointed’ with the setup and that it ‘didn’t feel like it was a heritage asset’ for him.
Cllr John Bowden (Con, Eton & Castle) disagreed, and said that having used the area multiple times per week, he thought the appearance of the outside area had been ‘good’.
He added: “Talking of the appearance between the conservation area, here we have a void which has been used as a car park entrance, which has always surprised me and a lot of the pedestrians crossing there.
“There were security concerns in the past, before the barriers were put up across the town for the guards marching and major events that occur, and this was a concern to have a passage through it from the rear to come out into the High Street.
“I’m pleased that a structure has been put there to prevent this.”
He added that there were ‘nothing had been done’ about other ground level structures with commercial screens ‘blaring out light’ into the conservation area.
Cllr Neil Knowles (OWRA, Old Windsor) raised concerns over approving permanent permission to a pagoda that ‘looked like a temporary structure’.
Furthermore, Cllr Amy Tisi (Lib Dem, Clewer East) said that it was an ‘ingenious idea’ during the ‘unprecedented times’ of the pandemic, but felt the structure ‘just doesn’t fit within the area’.
Cllr Sharpe, seconded by Cllr Knowles, proposed a motion to refuse the application, which was split between panel members 4-4, so chairman Cllr David Cannon (Con, Datchet, Horton & Wraysbury) was required to cast the deciding vote.
Cllr Cannon voted against the motion, so a second proposal was moved by Cllr Bowden to permit the application with the conditions deferred and delegated to the head of planning.
Seconded by Cllr Shamsul Shelim (Con, Eton & Castle), the motion was again split 4-4, with the chairman casting a vote in favour of the motion.