Campaigners are disappointed controversial plans to build a holiday park at Delamere Forest are back on the agenda after being rejected by government as well at the High Court in London.
The original Forestry Commission/Forest Holiday 70-cabin scheme was backed by Cheshire West and Chester Council in 2013 but rejected by then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
This came after a government inspector weighed up the pros and cons and decided that, on balance, the scheme was inappropriate because of the harm to the green belt.
The decision followed a powerful grass roots campaign by Communities Against Delamere’s Destruction (CADD) who fought the plans from when they first emerged in 2012.
That’s why leading activist Nigel Gilding is so frustrated a fresh consultation is taking place over a revised £15m project that will include 69 holiday cabins as well as a new visitor centre, new trails and extra parking as well as delivering what the applicants insist will be improved traffic flow.
Nigel has always feared the peace of the forest will be shattered by thousands of extra vehicles.
He said: “I would like to express my disappointment having been through a lengthy legal process that includes a public inquiry, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and beyond, that having withdrawn their last application, they are now back with another one.
“It remains to be seen how substantially different it is from the first.”
The Forestry Commission says the local economy stands to benefit to the tune of around £2.5 million a year with the vision expected to create about 56 full and part-time jobs with its partner Forest Holidays.
Public exhibitions are being hosted today (Thursday), Friday and Saturday (July 14, 15 and 16) to tell people about the new plans.
Explaining the thinking behind revisiting the project, The Forestry Commission said in a statement: “A similar masterplan was overwhelmingly supported by Cheshire West and Cheshire in 2013.
"However, the scheme had to be scrutinised by the Secretary of State for DCLG who concluded that whilst there were substantial economic benefits and no environmental, highways or local impact concerns with the proposal, evidence was lacking as to why the cabins need to be located in Delamere.
“The Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays are confident that the new proposals will address this and offer even more benefits for all those who use and enjoy the forest.”
Andy Medhurst, forest management director, said: “Delamere Forest is hugely popular and we know at times struggles to cope with the number of people who come to visit. The plans would allow us to solve the challenge of hosting the 750,000 people who enjoy the forest each year by improving how they get in and out of the forest and expanding parking.
“We want to address the frustrations felt by people living nearby as well as visitors and improve the experience with first rate facilities for the range of ages and groups that we welcome every day.”
The Forestry Commission says the revised plans include an additional £250,000 investment in the creation of new forest fitness and natural play trails at Whitefields.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the proposals are 69 holiday cabins to be run Forest Holidays, which would generate about £200,000 annual rent to support the long term management and upkeep of Delamere Forest.
The applicants say they will be ‘carefully and sensitively’ integrated into the forest, away from the main visitor area ‘with no loss of access’ to local users.
Bruce McKendrick, chief executive of Forest Holidays, commented: “The Forest Holidays model is unique in the UK. Our guests want to enjoy a peaceful getaway in the forest, to relax in the cabin and to explore the environment and surrounding communities.
“Our cabins are architecturally designed to fit sensitively within the woodland environment, with modest central facilities. We are incredibly proud to work closely with communities and businesses, bringing significant visitor spending to local shops, restaurants and attractions.
"We have nine locations on the Forestry Commission Estate in the UK, all within beautiful forests and four successfully operating in National Parks.”
Public drop-in exhibitions will be held at Delamere Forest, sign-posted from car parks, at the following times:
■ Thursday July 14, 3-7pm
■ Friday July 15, 3-7pm
■ Saturday July 16, 8.30am- 2pm