Client story

Creating a unique wildlife experience head and shoulders above the rest

Taking the existing Grade II* listed Wealden Hall House and re-purposing it for a 10-bedroom boutique hotel and a wild giraffe experience.

The ambition

The Aspinall Foundation which currently operates two wildlife parks in the UK came to us for advice and expertise when looking to expand its operation. Their ambition was to create Giraffe Hall, a unique guest experience, building a new 10 bedroom boutique hotel alongside a wild giraffe habitat. Allowing the two concepts to meet for the first time in the UK. This aspiration involved sensitive renovation of a Grade II* listed Wealden Hall House to create the new hotel, with a number of guest pods located within its setting and ancillary buildings and other structures.

How we achieved it

The site presented many challenges, not only because of the sensitivities associated with the listed building and its setting but due to the site sitting on an escarpment within AONB and being bordered by SSSI. It also sits within a Special Landscape Area and Area of Archaeological Potential.

Our Planning and Heritage team worked closely with the Council’s Planning and Conservation Officers throughout the planning process to overcome any sensitivities. Consultation meetings were undertaken with Historic England, residents in the local area and community to ensure full understanding of the proposals before any construction began. Together with our client we spearheaded the project through the turbulent COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure it could progress safely and in line with expectations. We adapted the proposals to address concerns raised and worked hard with the Council to deliver this successful scheme when Council processes and staff resourcing slowed decision making due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results

Giraffe Hall’s application was approved at Planning Committee in August 2020. The client’s ambition to bring a notable listed building back into use in their local area was achieved. We recognised that proposals needed to be adapted to address key feedback from the local community; and that the overall impact on the AONB was limited, especially when weighed against the benefits the proposals would bring. The client was extremely happy with the result. They already have a waiting list of 22,000 guests and hope to open by Summer 2022.