A FORMER grammar school in one of the Lake District’s busiest towns could be converted into a luxury hotel.
Property developers Springbourne Homes revealed this week they had bought the former Kelsick School on Stockghyll Lane in Ambleside.
The new ‘world-class’ 50-bedroomed hotel will feature a spa and a culinary school that developers hope will be fronted by a number of celebrity chefs.
Recently on the market for £1million, Kelsick School and Kelsick House covers 16,145sq ft. They are set in more than two acres of grounds overlooking the town.
They have been sold by the University of Cumbria who said the cash will be pumped into the regeneration of the previously mothballed Ambleside campus.
But the project has been given the thumbs down by campaign group Future Ambleside which was set up to fight plans by budget hotel chain Premier Inn opening a 64-bedroomed in the town.
The group has now waded into the latest proposal saying the new hotel would lead to bankruptcy for some of the town’s existing B&Bs and guesthouses, and also put jobs in jeopardy at the local services they use.
“There are currently just under 500 hotel and B&B spaces in the village,” said Fiona Howarth, one of the founding members of the group.
“To increase this capacity by at least 25 per cent with these two hotels will inevitably put all existing hotels and B&Bs at risk of bankruptcy.”
However Adrian Burr, managing director of the Nuneaton-based developers, disagreed.
He told the Gazette the ‘high-end’ nature of the hotel would attract more visitors, rather than draw business away from B&Bs.
“I understand the concerns about Premier Inn but we are a totally different offering,” said Mr Burr, who revealed there were two options on the table. One was to knock down the building and create a 21st century hotel from scratch, he said.
“But the preferred option is to retain and extend the current buildings,” added Mr Burr.
He said the company was in negotiations with a number of hotel operators and hoped a planning application would be submitted in September.
Stephen Miller, director of estates at the university, said there was limited interest in Kelsick.
He said it was working with the Lake District National Park Authority to ‘achieve best value from any surplus estate’.
“As a charity, it is essential that the university gets the best market value for its surplus estate to meet its charitable objectives, and resource from the disposal of any surplus properties, including Kelsick, will be reinvested back into the Scale How campus,” he said.
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Tony Blaney, chairman of the Lakes Hospitality Association, which has more than 200 members in the South Lakes, said if the operator was a large chain it would ‘dilute the Lake District brand’.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of individual hotels and guest houses offering a unique visitor experience. Big chains don’t offer that.”
But he added: “A new hotel coming to the area is business. Nobody likes competition but everybody has the right to trade. I don’t think we should discourage that.
“B&Bs have nothing to fear because their standard is incredibly high.”
Ian Stephens, Cumbria Tourism’s managing director, said it ‘illustrates the growing business confidence and market growth opportunities in the tourism sector.’
Mr Stephens added: “We would be pressing for high quality standards in terms of design, sustainability, customer service and will encourage the operators to engage with the local community and get involved in collaborative marketing activities.”