COUNCILLORS have been urged to reject plans to demolish a former hotel thought to have once belonged to tea tycoon Sir Thomas Lipton.

The Belgravia Hotel in Christchurch Road, Bournemouth, currently hosts 24 bedsits, but developer Pierfront Developments is applying to knock it down and build a four storey block of 32 one and two-bedroom flats in its place.

While not itself listed, the Victorian building is within the East Cliff conservation area and is considered important to the setting of the Grade II Listed First Church of Christ Scientist, opposite.

Planning officers have recommended that permission be refused, but East Cliff ward councillor Michael Filer has called the plans in for discussion by the planning board, saying the new block would be a “major improvement” with “better quality” accommodation.

In their report to the board, due to meet on Monday next week, officers claim the demolition of the hotel would cause “substantial harm” to the conservation area, and describe the proposed block of flats as “overly large and unsympathetic”.

Also, the report states, the accommodation “would not provide a high standard of living conditions for future occupants”.

The plans are also opposed by major East Cliff landowner the Meyrick Estate, which once owned the site and currently owns neighbouring properties. However, Bournemouth Civic Society has backed the scheme, describing it as “spatially harmonious with the existing townscape” due to the comparative size of neighbouring buildings.

“However we also note that in other parts of central Bournemouth where new flats are being built, almost identical historicist designs are being put forward,” the society says.

“In effect these blocks are in reality modern blocks of flats, cleverly disguised in antique dress.”

Prior to becoming the Belgravia the hotel was known as Udale House, and it was originally in residential use.

Anecdotal evidence from a leaseholder claims it was once owned by Lipton, the Victorian grocer, tea magnate and competitive sailor.