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Tory donor told to tear down hotel after planning breach

Windsor site that offers caviar facials was the backdrop for Sunak’s big Brexit moment

Geraldine Scott  Political Reporter

Monday August 28 2023, 3.30pm, The Times

A billionaire Tory donor has been ordered to tear down his luxury hotel, which was the backdrop to the signing of the Windsor agreement and a Conservative Party away day.

Surinder Arora has been told by Runnymede borough council that he will have to demolish all or part of his five-star Fairmont Windsor Park Hotel after making it bigger than planning permission allowed with an extra wing and extending into the eaves.

Arora, founder and chairman of the Arora Group, has until October to appeal against the enforcement notice, which found that the hotel had a “harmful effect on the green belt”.

If the appeal goes all the way the final decision could end up on the desk of Michael Gove, the communities secretary.

Arora may also have to pull down five luxury treehouses that were built on an adjoining site, after councillors denied him planning permission.

The 251-room hotel was the backdrop to the signing of the Windsor framework in February, where Rishi Sunak won over the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The cost to the taxpayer of using the hotel was £16,325.

In the same week the hotel was again used by Sunak to hold an away day for Tory MPs, with presentations on how to hold on to their seats at the next election, a pub quiz hosted by Greg Hands, the party chairman, dinner with Sunak and drinks. The event was paid for by the Conservative Party.

The hotel and spa, on the edge of Windsor Great Park, has also been used by Runnymede council for a business awards ceremony and dinners with business leaders.

Fairmont Windsor Park opened last year after four years of development on the site of a former hotel, Savill Court. The original plans had proposed redeveloping this building. However, during the works it collapsed and the hotel had to be built from scratch.

It costs more than £1,000 a night to stay in one of the hotel’s suites, or more than £400 for a standard room. Its spa offers caviar facials and it has three bars and a tea room.

A council spokesman said it was “disappointed” that “works were undertaken on the site without planning permission”.

Arora said: “We are truly sorry for the mistakes made during the construction of the Fairmont Windsor Park. It was a highly challenging construction site being developed in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are now constructively engaging with Runnymede council and other local stakeholders to find mutually acceptable solutions to the planning concerns which have been raised.

“The hotel is a fantastic property. We want to ensure it continues serving the local area and bringing significant economic benefits to Runnymede. We remain extremely proud of it but also accept the need to remedy our mistakes.”

It is understood the Arora Group could offer to demolish structures of the equivalent volume or scale of the additions to the site, in the village of Englefield Green.

Residents have accused Arora of destroying the area. In a report commissioned by the Englefield Green Village Residents’ Association, and seen by The Times, an independent planning consultant said there were “a number of large additions to the hotel” that did not appear to have planning permission.

These include an extra wing, two extensions, and the hotel being about 2.5 metres taller than planned. The report said that after examination of about 20 applications submitted to the council by Arora “there have been no approved plans found within the council’s planning records available online which show these apparent additions to the hotel”.

Arora applied for planning permission in December for the treehouse lodges with hot tubs on wooden decks but had started building them eight months earlier. Councillors rejected his application but he has since submitted revised plans.

A second enforcement notice could be served on the treehouses.

In one letter of objection, a resident accused Arora of a “habitual approach of ignoring the rules by which regular citizens live by”. Another said: “It seems very wrong to me that a large commercial entity that has been developing its property portfolio for years in this area and is well aware of the need for planning consent, decides to ignore [the process] and when challenged proceed by applying for retrospective consent.”  Another said that the building work undertaken by Arora had caused “irreparable damage” to mature woodland.

Some residents said that they feared there was a conflict of interest between the council and Arora, as a response to a freedom of information request revealed the council was in “live and real-time discussions regarding the purchase and development of land” from Arora. Runnymede borough council denied this and said there was a “glass wall” between the planning and housing departments which would protect against any conflict.

Arora, who features on The Sunday Times Rich List, previously found himself embroiled in a scandal after it was revealed Priti Patel, then home secretary, and Kwasi Kwarteng, then business secretary, met the tycoon at Heathrow airport’s Hilton Garden Inn without officials from their departments present.

Arora also previously submitted a rival plan to expand Heathrow airport and build a third runway. At the time Arora said: “I’ve known Kwasi and Priti for years. I said pop in and have lunch and see my new hotel. I don’t do politics. I don’t support anyone. There wasn’t any agenda.”

Through Arora Management Services Ltd, of which he is a director, Arora previously donated £5,000 to the Tories in Runnymede and Weybridge, plus another £1,450 in sponsorship.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede, the ex-chancellor and former Runneymede MP, is an adviser of Arora Holdings Ltd, of which Arora is also a director. Hammond told the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) when seeking permission to take up the role that Arora was “a former constituent and long-term political supporter and a personal friend” but added that they had not met while Hammond was in office. There is no suggestion that Hammond has acted inappropriately or been involved in any way.