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Hotel chain bid to move staff out and guests in at Coylumbridge is condemned

By Gavin Musgrove

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Badenoch and Strathspey Highland councillor Muriel Cockburn by the caravans on site at the Coylumbridge Hotel.
Badenoch and Strathspey Highland councillor Muriel Cockburn by the caravans on site at the Coylumbridge Hotel.

A company regularly named as the UK’s worst hotel chain wants to move its staff into caravans to make more rooms available for its guests in the strath.

Britannia Hotels Ltd intends to house up to 20 staff in five caravans on site at the Coylumbridge Hotel.

The hotel group has applied for planning permission for the staff accommodation next to the Funhouse.

It is understood workers were living in the caravans for a time during the summer prior to the required planning consent being sought.

The local planning authorities were alerted to the situation prompting the submission to Highland Council.

Cairngorms Business Partnership (CBP) chief executive Mark Tate condemned the bid and said better quality accommodation is desperately needed for local workers.

He said: “The CBP is working with partners to make a positive impact on the provision of quality housing that people who want to work in, live in and care for the national park can afford and be proud of.

“We are aware that, right now, some employees across the strath are living in caravans, cars and vans.

“In a national park we quite rightly focus a lot on sustainability.

“Having the people who care for our nature and provide experiences to our guests living in this way is not sustainable and we need to all work to do better and make available affordable homes that we can all be proud of.”

Local Highland councillor Muriel Cockburn described it as a ‘worrying’ planning application: “A source told me the caravans had been used and I also heard staff had left in summer because of it.

“If the application goes ahead I would expect staff to be looked after in something of a very high standard that was warm with water.

“Caravans in the winter have systems that freeze very easily ­– and I am talking from experience.

“All our employers have a duty of care for their staff’s wellbeing.”

Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes (SNP) said she was pleased to hear that visitor demand for the hotel was high but continued: “I would encourage Britannia Hotels to ensure their staff are well looked after and adequately accommodated.

“I don’t think many people would relish the prospect of staying the winter in a caravan, especially in an area renowned for its snowfall and skiing.”

The Cairngorms National Park Authority is understood to have been alerted to the caravans being in use for hotel staff towards the end of the summer.

Planners investigated and found four static caravans in the hotel’s grounds.

They contacted Highland Council who, the CNPA said, have a broader range of powers to investigate in detail and potentially take action.

Britannia’s planning applicants Newburgh-based Arthur Stone Planning and Architectural Design state in their submission the Coylumbridge Hotel has no dedicated staff accommodation and those who live-in are accommodated in ‘guest’ rooms.

The agents state: “The hotel has been experiencing full guest occupancy and therefore the provision of alternative staff accommodation will allow for additional rooms to be available to guests.

“It is proposed that staff will share accommodation in the residential caravans, separate from the guest area of the hotel and providing more self- contained accommodation, with kitchen and living room area.”

They said the caravans will be well screened on site by buildings, woodland and fencing.

It is proposed to accommodate ‘no more than four staff’ in each of the caravans approximately 10.7 metres by 3.7 metres.

They will be connected to the drainage and water supply serving the hotel complex.

The planning agents conclude: “With respect, the applicant seeks approval of this application in order to ensure the successful operation of the Coylumbridge Hotel, a major business within the tourism sector of the national park.”

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “A planning application has been submitted and is being considered by the council.”

The proposal has not been called in by the CNPA. A spokesperson added: “The treatment of staff by employers is not something that the planning system can effectively manage.”

Britannia Hotels hit national headlines in mid-March 2019 after sacking and evicting 30 staff at the Coylumbridge Hotel with no notice – in effect making them homeless – at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Strathy contacted Britannia Hotels but did not receive a response.

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