York hotel plans innovative garden ‘glasshouses’ for Covid-safe dining – but not everyone’s happy

A York hotel owner revealed he has lost about £400,000 since the start of the pandemic.

And plans to create a Covid-safe dining area to help the business survive could be scuppered – as the council has raised concerns that noisy racegoers might stop in for a meal.

Simon Cowton of the St George’s Hotel in St George’s Place is planning to put up eight temporary glasshouses and a pizza oven in the garden of the property.

He revealed the challenges he has faced during the pandemic, which included turning away £4,000-worth of bookings in December from customers who wanted to visit York from areas in tier 3 or 4.

Mr Cowton, who also owns hotel 23 St Mary’s, said: “We have lost something like £400,000 since March – that’s my pension gone.

“So I’m going to have to work for a few more years – had I had ill health this would have life-changing consequences for me and my family.

“In December we turned away £4,000-worth of bookings from people living in tier 3 and 4 areas.

“I phoned and said ‘I’m afraid you can’t come to stay here’ – people were very understanding.

“It’s a pandemic. If people are chasing the money, it can cause unnecessary deaths. I not going to be responsible for that.”

Neighbour ‘appalled’

St George’s Hotel

He has applied for a licence to serve diners in the glasshouses, saying there will be no bar outside, guests must have a booking and groups of racegoers, hen and stag parties cannot dine unless they are staying at the hotel.

Last orders would be at 9pm Sunday to Thursday and 10.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Nineteen people have opposed the plans – saying they have worries about noise, the sale of alcohol, parking and people urinating in the street.

One wrote they were “appalled that such an application as this has been submitted,” adding it “will inevitably cause considerable nuisance to me”.

Another wrote: “St George’s Place is a quiet residential street (in fact, a cul de sac) within a conservation area, with many children and the elderly living in very close proximity to the premises.

“I am therefore particularly concerned about noise, foul language and the excessive traffic and parking issues this will create.”

Council concerns

The council’s public protection team said it has “concerns about noise from customers raised voices on race days and in the evenings in the garden”.

They add: “As the application stands, there are insufficient conditions to control noise from the licensable activities within the quiet back garden of the hotel in a highly residential setting and Public Protection are unable to support the application without more stringent conditions being offered and an offer to curtail of the hours of use of the garden area from the applicant.”

Mr Cowton said the objections were “very disheartening” and sought to reassure people – saying the garden is surrounded by walls or fencing, focus will be on fine dining and the glasshouses have been designed to reduce noise.

He said: “The concept is to create a little safe oasis of beauty in this neighbourhood.”

“I have got lovely staff and I want to protect them.

“We are not using the glass houses for drinking, we are using them for dining.

“It’s going to be a beautiful facility for the community, where people can have dinner in warm, beautiful, safe surroundings where you can have the illusion that life is back to normal.

“People are going to be nervous about going out for some time to come and a lot of people are not going to want to go into town.

“I want to reassure people that the concept isn’t what they think it is – it’s low lighting, maybe a little bit of chatter and a pizza oven in the garden.

“It is a very private garden and we have planted shrubs around the border.

“I am a responsible owner and profit has never been our motivation, we just want to make a living.”

He said food will be ordered through an app and each glasshouse will be fogged using a hospital-grade cleaning system between bookings.

The licensing hearing takes place at 10am on Monday.