Plans for a 55-bedroom hotel and spa next to a North East mansion have been rejected as councillors agreed the design was not in keeping with the historic building.

Planning committee members of Middlesbrough Council were told the development was “fundamental” to the long-term viability of the use of the Grade I listed Acklam Hall. It also had “significant potential” to bring economic benefits to the town and wider area, they heard.

Concerns were voiced, however, over the proposed design of the building. One resident opposing the scheme described it as “big, ugly and inappropriate” and suggested it had the appearance of a motel.

Acklam Hall, off Hall Drive, is Middlesbrough’s only Grade I listed building. Middlesbrough College moved out in 2008 and the building and its land was sold by the council in 2014 for £907,000.

It reopened in 2016 as a wedding venue, restaurant and office space. Plans for a hotel were initially submitted in 2021 but were reworked following discussions with the planning department of the council.

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A report by planning officers to the committee said the changes were not sufficient to remove concerns raised by Historic England, the Conservation Officer or the planning authority. 

Steve Longstaff, director of planning consultancy firm ELG Planning, attended the meeting on behalf of the applicant R&H Properties.

He said the extension of the hall remains “fundamental” to supporting the longer-term viability of the uses within the hall itself.

“Without a viable long term use within the hall there is a danger it would once again become vacant. and the achievements to date are undone,” he said.

“Revenue from the restaurant and office accommodation alone is not enough to ensure it’s long-term future. The proposed hotel and spa has significant potential for economic benefits for Middlesbrough and the wider area in delivering a high quality form of tourist accommodation and spa in a sustainable location.”

Committee member Cllr Ian Blades said he accepted that there would be benefits from a hotel on the site but added: “Looking at it, it’s not right for this site”. 

Cllr Morgan McClintock said he found the arguments made against the development by the planning officers, who recommended refusal, to be “totally persuasive”.

It was noted Historic England had objected to the scheme. In response, Mr Longstaff said the public body had “consistently objected throughout the whole of Acklam Hall’s history and that hasn’t deterred the council from making bold or the right decisions to enable the future of the hall to stay.”

Cllr David Coupe said he believed the proposed cladding was “totally wrong” and should be bricked.

“I agree that it’s getting perhaps closer to what it should be but if you look at the photos it stands out for all the wrong reasons,” he said.

“I’m trying to, but can’t see that it would be in any way complementary. I totally accept the financial side of it but we’re not here to think of the financial side of it, we’re here to think about the planning side of it.”

A nearby resident told the committee meeting on Thursday they have been living with the application hanging over them for the past three years.

“People round about appreciate that the hall has to be viable and the principle of a hotel and spa is quite welcomed locally,” she said.

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“The problem with this application is it’s big, ugly and inappropriate, basically. I think it’s more, well you could compare it with a motel with a car park in front of it.

“It’s not fitting for a Grade I listed building which will in itself look like an annexe to this new building. There could be a development, a hotel and spa… but we need something that would sit with the hall and be appropriate to the hall and its setting.”

Mr Longstaff suggested the decision be deferred to allow outstanding concerns to be addressed. However members unanimously agreed to reject the scheme.