PLANS to enlarge a "critically important" New Forest hotel by adding an extra storey have been given the go-ahead.

Owners of the South Lawn Hotel in Lymington Road, Milford on Sea, have received consent to upgrade the facility by building 18 bedrooms on top of the existing complex.

South Lawn will also be provided with an extra 48 parking spaces.

The £1.5m scheme, which will create five full-time jobs, was given the nod at a meeting of the district council’s planning committee.

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South Lawn is currently a two-storey building with 26 bedrooms.

A report to councillors said the applicants had explored several other options, including a ground floor extension or a detached building, but felt they would “further urbanise” the site.

Remodelling the existing building would result in the hotel having a greater impact on its rural setting.

The report added: “Officers agree that given the constraints of the site, the proposal to utilise the existing flat roof of the building to create a second floor would be the correct approach.

“The design seeks to match the form, materials and appearance of the existing building."

The report described the proposed increase in parking and resulting loss of greenery as unfortunate but said a landscaping scheme involving new trees and shrubs would enhance the setting.

South Lawn's proposal sparked six letters of support and two of objection.

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Supporters included Anthony Climpson, head of the Go New Forest tourism organisation, who said: "The hotel is a critically important business and community resource. It creates much of the non-resident spending which helps maintain the facilities enjoyed in Milford.

"The additional bedrooms are essential if the property is to remain viable in the long term as a quality small hotel."

The council's economic development department also backed the proposal.

It said: "The increase in number of bedrooms should boost the number of overnight visitor stays in the local area, thus bringing increased investment to the New Forest economy and benefit to local supply chains."

The application was approved, subject to conditions.

Speaking after the meeting the hotel's owner, Tim Wedgwood, said: "Although we'd like to start the build in January we feel the timescales are too tight. We also have a number of weddings during January, February and March that we don't wish to inconvenience."

Mr Wedgwood said work was expected to start in January 2021, with the new rooms opening by Easter that year.