Gracewell Healthcare acquired the Preston Cross Hotel, Little Bookham, Surrey, in aid of redeveloping the site to provide a 70-bed care facility. The 1.2-hectare site constitutes previously developed land within the Green Belt and lies within the Bookham Conservation Area. Parts of the existing building have been present and prominent within the community since the mid 1800s. Snapdragon Consulting were therefore appointed to support the delivery of a planning application to ensure that the relevant political and community stakeholders were engaged and briefed in order to best place the planning application for approval.
The local authority in Little Bookham is Mole Valley District Council and if there is a single point of local contention for elected officials and constituents alike, it is the fierce protection of Green Belt land. Local election campaigns are run on platforms that emphasize the unerring protection of the Green Belt and numerous local action groups exist with the same sole purpose.
Even in light of an identified local need for increased elderly care provision in Mole Valley, the programme had to be sympathetic too and molded around the issue of preserving the character of the local environment. Mole Valley councillors are not only highly aware of their accountability to their constituents, but the majority of them are also long standing local residents.
This presented the project team with the unique challenge of engaging elected officials that were highly knowledgeable about the history of the site and the likely impact of redevelopment on the local area.
Snapdragon Consulting were appointed to the project after the submission of the planning application. Key messages were established at an early stage, to ensure that all engagement with local stakeholders was consistent and that the amendments made to the proposals in light of local concerns were at the forefront of the information disseminated.
Meetings were held with key planning committee members to brief them on the proposals, and a site visit was arranged, inviting all 19 planning committee members to tour the site and discuss any concerns they may have with the project team. This process allowed members of the project team to establish many of the key messages in person, and to address any misnomers that invariably arise as part of any project.
A written members briefing was produced and sent to all members prior to the application being heard at committee. Again, this allowed for the accurate and detailed dissemination of information to decision makers, ultimately ensuring that the application would be heard without confusion or the misrepresentation of information.
The application was approved at a Development Control Committee meeting of Mole Valley District Council on 1st October 2014, by a vote of 17:1.