• Camden checks out of pod hotel plans

Plans for an innovative underground pod hotel close to Tottenham Court Road have been turned down by Camden planners. The scheme, which would have converted an underused car park into budget accommodation, was rejected over fears around emergency access, air quality and additional stress on the local community.
The innovative project put forward by commercial landlord and developer Criterion Capital, sought to reuse sub-basement levels beneath the St Giles hotel. Basement levels minus four and five, currently an NCP car park, would be converted to a 166 room hotel. The pod bedrooms would not have windows, but would be ventilated by an air conditioning system.
The scheme was a modified version of one previously put to planners in 2014, and turned down. The applicants said this revised application answered all of the seven reasons for refusal on that occasion.
“This is the first of its kind in Camden as a whole entity, but there are other similar proposals in London which have received permission elsewhere,” noted the presenting officer. Camden already has other hotels with a percentage of windowless rooms. This includes the Tune hotel in Grays Inn Road, while an approved
The loss of parking was, said officials, acceptable as there is a surplus locally, while Transport for London had lent its support. The hotel would also meet a recognised need for more accommodation in the area.
“It’s an unusual proposition for a hotel”, noted the officer, but did not conflict with any of the council’s policies on hotels. Air quality had been given careful consideration, with the council’s air quality officer satisfied that conditions would be adequate. The scheme was recommended for approval.
Tom Edmunds of Bilfinger GVA, speaking for the applicant, noted that were members would refuse a car park on the site, were it to be proposed today, calling the scheme “an excellent opportunity to take cars off the streets of Bloomsbury”. It would create 24 jobs and support other local restaurant businesses.
Members expressed concern, some taking the side of Roger Wilson of the Bloomsbury Association with worries about noise and nuisance from the use. Others suggested that windowless hotel rooms somehow contravened policies in the London plan. Cllr Danny Beales was in favour, welcoming the idea of a budget hotel that would “bring a slice of Tokyo to Camden” , and noting that similar hotels are already open already. Ultimately, the project was voted down over concerns about quality of internal design, and a lack of assurance about air quality.
This is not the first scheme for a pod hotel that Criterion Capital has put forward. The company is working to convert the upper floors of the London Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus to a hotel. The project with 666 rooms was approved in 2012, with Westminster councillors giving their blessing – and apparently not worried by the fact that most rooms would not have a window. Cllr Heather Acton said as the scheme was voted through: “The Trocadero is historically renowned for bringing entertainment to the city, and a new concept hotel will form a very welcome addition to the area, enabling more people to enjoy the vibrant West End for shopping, entertainment and culture.”

LPA Perspective: This was a illogical decision, and one that could well be appealed by the applicant.
Some of the Camden planning committee appeared to have an issue with the provision of budget pod accommodation, or simply with providing hotel rooms that do not have windows. However, their officers were sure all the outstanding issues were addressed. And surely a few individuals arriving for a quiet night’s stay would be unlikely to cause noise or trouble in the street outside their budget hotel – and far less pollution than cars arriving at a car park.
On the issue of whether windowless hotel rooms constitute adequate accommodation, they should let the market decide. Japanese tourists would surely be happy – and many others, too.
Camden’s own figures suggest the borough needs more hotel rooms, and at all levels of the market. Even budget hotel brands such as Travelodge and Premier Inn regularly charge more than £150 a night for their rooms, so high is demand for places to stay in the capital.
There were complaints that the local residents are currently “under stress” and that a few extra visitors to the area would upset this further. We have news for the locals around Bloomsbury – Crossrail is coming, and the retailers around Tottenham Court Road are very much hoping it will bring with it lots and lots more people to visit the area.
The other issue here, is what to do with redundant car parks. As the capital pursues ever more cycle friendly – and therefore car unfriendly – policies, so car park structures. The Beaumont in Westminster is perhaps the best example of a hotel created from a redundant car park, but plenty of other ideas are being tried, from self storage to cycle parking and gyms.

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