Trentham awaits

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St Modwen is resurrecting hotel plans at its popular Trentham Estate

This summer should have marked the opening of a luxury hotel overlooking the expansive gardens of the Trentham Estate in Staffordshire and the lake beyond.

But there is still a gaping hole.

The onset of recession meant developer St Modwen had to shelve proposals two years ago to rebuild the stately home that once stood as the centrepiece of the 750 acre estate, just south of Stoke.

Trentham Hall, torn down in 1911, was the country retreat of the Duke of Sutherland. Since then, the only clue that anything ever stood there at all is two dilapidated wings that served as the stables and side entrance, and a stone stairway that leads to nowhere.

End of a century

Now the developer is dusting off those plans and wants to resurrect the project before 2011 – exactly a century since Trentham Hall passed into history. St Modwen says it is talking to specialist hotel operators and aims to submit a planning application by the end of the year or early in 2010 for a £35m development.

‘If things had not gone badly in the economy, we would be standing here now talking about the opening of a new hotel as the last piece in the jigsaw of Trentham Estate,’ says Mike Herbert, regional director of St Modwen.

‘As everyone knows, it has been a difficult market out there, particularly in hotels, but we have not given up. It has always been our intention to put a hotel there and that has not changed, even through the downturn.’

Herbert says St Modwen plans a luxury hotel of up to 150 bedrooms, which will be based on the original designs of Trentham Hall. It would include leisure and conference facilities, as well as a restaurant and bar. The challenge facing the developer is to find a hotel operator willing to take on what promises to be a project fraught with issues over heritage and design.

‘We realise there will only be a limited number of operators who would be willing to take something like this on,’ says Herbert. ‘The heritage aspect is very important and this is not like your normal hotel development in your normal environment. This will be a hotel standing in acres of gardens.’

Herbert says St Modwen will retain the freehold of the completed project, but would consider entering into a joint venture, or even build the hotel itself and lease it to an operator.

‘The important thing is that we don’t box ourselves in too much,’ he says. ‘We want a project that is going to be viable, but it also has to be in keeping with its surroundings.’

The hotel is just part of the developer’s planned expansion of the estate, which it has owned since 1996 and has been growing in popularity ever since. The number of visitors to the gardens and leisure attractions were up by more than 85% in March, April and May compared with the same period last year.

During half-term week at the end of May, the visitor numbers reached a new high of 10,383, compared with 4,453 in 2008. Annual ticket sales have increased by more than three and a half times compared with figures for 2008.

In response, St Modwen has in place planning consent for 67,000 sq ft of shopping space that will bring the total up to 135,000 sq ft. It also has consent for 75 holiday lodges.

‘We are waiting to push the button on both of those projects as and when the time is right,’ says Herbert. ‘We would like something to move before the end of the year, but realistically it looks like the first part of 2010.’

For a while at least then, those ever-increasing visitors will simply have to cast their imaginations back 100 years to get an idea of what Trentham Hall would have looked like in all its glory.

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