More than 140 acres of a parkland golf course, woodlands and adjoining hotel could be at risk from profit-hungry developers, according to the local residents’ association, as PEARL LEE reports
A Victorian-era manor house, built for the Byron family, could be demolished and redeveloped into housing under the latest proposals released by the Conservative-controlled local council, as it tries to sell publicly-owned properties and open spaces.
Proposals to sell the Coulsdon Manor Hotel and the adjoining golf course were first revealed 12 months ago, part of the efforts to plug a budget black hole that had seen Croydon’s bankrupted council handed a then-record £120million government bail-out.
A year ago, those proposals for Coulsdon Manor – which has been council-owned since 1938 – looked to maintain the status quo, after current operators Bespoke Hotels had approached the Town Hall about changing their existing lease of the building into a purchase arrangement which would guarantee the continued use of the golf course as a public course – open for use for “pay and play” to anyone, not requiring expensive membership fees.
But now the cash-strapped council’s revised proposals for the 145 acres of landscaped parkland, while including covenants to secure the future of the golf course, could yet see the 170-year-old hotel building sold to property developers, potentially to be used for housing.
Originally called Coulsdon Court when it was built in 1850 by the local squire, Thomas Byron, according to the hotel’s current operators, “the Manor House has been tastefully restored to its former glory. The beautiful country house retains many original features in addition to tastefully refurbished bedrooms”.
The nearby Coulsdon Court Woods form part of a Site of Nature Conservation Importance, and the entire site is in the Metropolitan Green Belt.
But Coulsdon Manor Hotel is not listed as architecturally or historically important, although the building and the golf course are on the Local List of Historic Parks and Gardens. That, though, is not thought to be protection enough to block any demolition by potential future owners.
The council’s official notice for the sale of the hotel and public open space appeared on July 7. Objections are open only until the end of this week.
The council’s note says, “Notice is hereby given in accordance with Section 123(2A) of the Local Government Act 1972 that the London Borough of Croydon (“the Council”) intends to dispose of an area of public open space being land at Coulsdon Manor Hotel and the adjoining golf course and ancillary accommodation at Coulsdon Court Road, Coulsdon CR5 2LL…
“By virtue of Section 123(2A) of the Local Government Act 1972 the Council is required to give formal notice of its intention to dispose of public open space and consider any objections to the proposed disposal.
“Any objection or representations regarding the proposed disposal should be made in writing to Stephen Wingrave, Interim Head of Estates, Asset Management and Facilities at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 12 noon on Friday 22nd July 2022. The grounds for any objection should be stated.”
Bespoke Hotels have operated Coulsdon Manor Hotel and golf course since 2013, with the council being paid a seemingly modest annual rental of around £19,000 “based upon a percentage of the turnover income”.
According to council papers published last year, there are 102 years left on the lease for the golf course and for the 42-room hotel with its function rooms and restaurant.
Bespoke Hotels describes itself as “the UK’s largest independent hotel group”, saying that it “represents” (rather than owns, or runs) “over 120 properties worldwide”.
They say, “Founded in 2000 by Haydn Fentum and Robin Sheppard, Bespoke has consistently grown to the point where we now manage over 5,000 hotel rooms and 6,000 employees and £525million of assets.”
The sale price for the hotel under last year’s proposed deal was never revealed by the council.
Staff at the hotel have indicated to Inside Croydon that they have not been advised of any change of plan.
Today, a spokesperson for Bespoke Hotels told Inside Croydon, “The current owners hold a very long-term lease interest in the property, approaching 100 years, and are currently in discussions with the council about acquiring the freehold.”
Obviously, the hotel business has changed, markedly, since 2020.
In the middle of the pandemic lockdown, the council forced the closure of one under-occupied hotel that it owned, the Croydon Park Hotel in the town centre, which has since been sold for redevelopment (for £30million less than the council paid for the property just three years earlier).
Another large hotel surrounded by a golf course, the privately-owned Selsdon Park Hotel, has been closed for nearly eight months, with promises that it will re-open at some point, but no updates announced for several months from its new owners.
The residents’ associations in Old Coulsdon have spent years battling with the council’s planning department over the piecemeal intensification of the area around Coulsdon Court golf course by profit-hungry developers who have made millions by buying up the plots of individual family houses, knocking them down, and turning those sites into multiple new homes.
Now there is a real fear that the Coulsdon Manor Hotel could end up going the same way.
Veteran Tory councillor Margaret Bird has told HADRA, the Hartley and District Residents’ Association, “We have included covenants for the main golf course so that it has to be retained as a public course…
“The area where the hotel, squash courts and car park are currently located can be redeveloped but this is in line with the covenants and rights already granted in the long lease that the purchasers already have (they have the right to extend the hotel).
“We have secured suitable overage provisions whereby if there is any redevelopment of this area, the council will be paid an additional amount based on the added value…
“Once we have sold the asset, the purchasers could sell on to a developer but these covenants will run with the land and therefore development on the golf course cannot take place without our prior agreement.”
If this was meant to reassure residents that the hotel and golf course would be safe from development, it has had quite the opposite effect.
HADRA, like many of the borough’s residents’ association, have come to realise that as far as Croydon Council’s planning department is concerned, covenants are not worth the paper they are written on.
“How will the covenants be enforced by the council?” HADRA asks on its website in reaction to the Coulsdon Manor sale notice.
“Currently the planning department does not take into account covenants when deciding planning applications and it is up to who own the covenant to enforce them.
“If it is the council, will there not be a conflict in interest with potential further income from [Community Infrastructure Levy] monies?”
HADRA has other strong objections, too, such as to the proposal to turn a public highway into a private road. “The access road from Coulsdon Road to Coulsdon Manor also serves to access Coulsdon Court Road and should not be sold off to private ownership,” they state.
The residents also fear for other packets of what is currently public open space. “The area of woodland and the access path to Old Lodge Lane should also not be sold off to private ownership but retained as public land for use by the local community for recreation space, natural greenspace, presence of protected species and biodiversity value.
“A lot of locals, particularly dog walkers, use the public footpath across the golf course to access the woods.”
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period