Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter to be turned into luxury flats

The city council’s planning committee unanimously approved the £17 million plans to return the building to its 'former glory'

Exeter’s Royal Clarence Hotel will be turned into luxury flats after councillors gave the go-ahead yesterday (October 10).

The historic building was destroyed in a fire six years ago.

The city council’s planning committee unanimously approved the £17 million plans, which will involve restoring the front of the building to its “former glory” with 23 luxury apartments, a restaurant and a bar.

Construction work is expected to start next summer and will take around two years to complete.

The iconic Grade II listed building dates back to 1769 and overlooks Exeter Cathedral. It has been said by historians to be the "oldest hotel in England".

The hotel was ravaged by the blaze in October 2016 that started in neighbouring buildings and spread to the hotel

A previous plan to build a 74-bedroom hotel on the site by a former owner fell through.

It was then sold to Southwest Lifestyle Brands Ltd, a company run by former Plymouth Argyle owner James Brent, who called the hotel plan “unviable.”

The apartments – a mix of 2 and 3-beds – will be spread over five floors, including a new roof extension. The ground floor will have a restaurant and pub to make up part of the reconstructed Well House Tavern and a commercial food and drink unit.

Members of the committee were told the plan has been designed to “retain and showcase as many historical features of the remaining building fabric as possible.”

However, some parts of the remaining listed buildings around the site, including 6 Martin’s Lane, are “unsalvageable” after being exposed to the elements for a number of years, so will need to be demolished.

Mr Brent said: “We clearly understand the emotional connection that the Royal Clarence building has with residents and visitors to the city and we’re very keen to see it return to its former glory to be enjoyed once more.”

When his company bought the site, he said a viability assessment was conducted on the previously agreed hotel scheme, explaining: “It was probably the most non-viable scheme I have come across.”

Mr Brent claimed the updated one is a “good scheme,” which brings the ground floor back into commercial use as well as providing “much-needed housing in the city centre in line with other residential developments in Cathedral Yard.”

It's hoped the 17 million pound project will restore the building to its 'former glory'

Council leader Phil Bialyk accepted the luxury nature of the flats means they will not be within the reach of the “overwhelming majority of the people in Exeter,” but said: “I think we really need to see that site and that part of town put right, and from what I can see I think it will be put right.”

He added: “It’s going to be a great improvement and I think people want to see it improved.”

The committee unanimously approved the application subject to a number of conditions, including a substantial contribution towards affordable housing – currently estimated at around £2 million – which will be confirmed at a later date.

A four-month detailed design process will begin shortly, according to Mr Brent, followed by another viability check. The construction will then take just under 18 months to complete.

Credit: Ollie Heptinstall, Local Democracy Reporter