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Delamere Forest campaigners celebrate killing off log cabins plan

Councillors reject their own planning department's advice by refusing £15m scheme

Community protest against the plans for a log cabins development at Delamere Forest

Campaigners are celebrating after councillors unanimously rejected revised £15m plans for a 67-cabin holiday park at Delamere Forest.

This is the second time the Forestry Commission/Forest Holiday scheme has been refused.

Back in 2013 a similar 70-cabin plan was approved by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) but kicked out by then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

This came after a government inspector weighed up the pros and cons and decided, on balance, the scheme was inappropriate because of the harm to the green belt.

And the decision followed a powerful grass roots campaign by Communities Against Delamere’s Destruction (CADD).

Nigel Gilding, spokesperson of Communities Against Delamere's Destruction campaign

Manley parish councillor Nigel Gilding, who led CADD, feared the game may finally be up when he addressed CWaC’s planning committee on Tuesday where planning officers were recommending approval of the revised plan.

But he began by reminding borough councillors the previous ‘virtually identical’ scheme had been rejected at the end of the democratic process.

He said: “The applicants now seek to tick the necessary boxes by attempting to enhance those parts of the application that added weight to their argument and lessening those that detracted from it.”

So when the vote was taken Cllr Gilding was absolutely delighted councillors ignored the advice of their own officers in unanimously refusing the planning application on grounds it represented inappropriate development for which ‘very special circumstances’ had not been demonstrated.

A cabin similar to those proposed in the 67-cabin scheme as part of the vision for Delamere Forest.

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Gilding told The Chronicle: “I think commonsense has prevailed. I think they’ve stood up today, the planning committee, I really do, and I think they are honourable men and women. I’m going to get a bottle of fizz on my way home!”

Fellow campaigner Simon Medland earlier described the plan as the ‘massive, effectively permanent, privatisation of the forest’.

Supporters and opponents of the Delamere Forest cabin scheme including front row, Cllr Nigel Gilding, nearest the camera, and Forestry Commission chief executive Simon Hodgson.

He said: “If an applicant came to the council and said ‘I want to build 67 houses in the forest’ they would be laughed out of this building with a flea in their ear and yet what is the difference?

"The chalets are as much permanent structures as houses, requiring roads to be upgraded for construction and service traffic – hundreds of private cars each week for the residents and emergency vehicle access – and all for what?

“Would this actually provide a local benefit commensurate with this massive impact on the forest and the environment?

“At least the 67 houses, which would never be countenanced, might actually answer local housing shortages. These chalets don’t.”

The master plan for the Delamere Forest vision which now lies in tatters.

The Forestry Commission argued the holiday park scheme was needed to make the forest ‘fit for purpose’ by funding a new visitor centre, new trails, extra parking and improving traffic flow.

Chief executive Simon Hodgson told councillors: “As you may be aware, Delamere currently welcomes 750,000 visitors a year with demand for outdoor recreation rising each year, partly as a result of society’s growing awareness of the benefits of health and well-being.

“Users of the forest are as aware as we that the infrastructure on the site has not been coping for sometime leading to significant issues related to traffic management, toilets, parking, visitor experience. The infrastructure is out-of-date, worn out and it needs to be reinvested in for the future.”

Members of the public gathered at the Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee in the HQ building in Chester.

He argued the holiday park was ‘a tried and tested model’ that would work ‘without detriment’ and bring major benefits to the local economy, the environment and improve access in and around the forest.

“The forest remains open to the public, fully accessible between cabins, around cabins and alongside cabins,” he added.

But committee member Cllr Jill Houlbrook (Con, Upton) said: “They don’t need to build the cabins to upgrade facilities. Mr Hodgson said the business of the Forestry Commission is growing and selling wood. Well, that’s how they make their money then. They are not a housing developer. That’s not what they are there for, chairman.”

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