Campaigners are bitterly disappointed a 67-cabin holiday park at Delamere Forest has been allowed on appeal fearing it will shatter the peace of the popular beauty spot.
Communities Against Delamere’s Destruction (CADD) have long opposed the £15million scheme by The Forestry Commission and its business partner Forest Holidays.
And in April 2017 Cheshire West and Chester Council ’s planning committee unanimously rejected their master plan on grounds the green belt plan represented inappropriate development.
This was the second time the scheme had been refused on similar grounds.
But the Forestry Commission argued the holiday park would make the forest ‘fit for purpose’ by funding a new visitor centre, new trails and improved accessibility for people in cars and travelling by public transport, with claims it would bring an extra £2.4m a year to the economy.
Planning inspector Paul Singleton agreed: “I find that the early delivery of the enhanced visitor hub would be a social benefit of substantial weight. The provision of the Whitefield trails and the improvements to the safety of all non-car users accessing the visitor facilities would also be social benefits to which I attach significant weight.
“Visitors to the holiday cabins would be able to enjoy an enhanced experience of the forest park but this would be a benefit of only modest weight. The economic benefits weigh strongly in favour of the proposal and I attach considerable weight to these.”
He concluded: “I find that the harm resulting from the proposal would clearly be outweighed by the benefits when taken as a whole. The very special circumstances needed to justify a grant of planning permission for the holiday cabins have, therefore, been demonstrated.“
Lead campaigner Nigel Gilding of CADD hit back: “The Forestry Commission states that Delamere Forest is enjoyed by 750,000 visitors per annum, unfortunately they will now be joined by around 20,000 more people per year, who will be able to drive their cars into the forest, dip into their hot tubs and disturb the natural peace and tranquillity that the vast majority of visitors have become accustomed to.
"Can that be right? In my view, this is a sale of part of the Public Forest Estate in all but name."
The saga of the Delamere Forest application has been ongoing for years. CWaC originally backed a similar 70-cabin scheme.
But former communities secretary Eric Pickles over-ruled the decision 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 Forestry Commission/Forest Holidays failed in a High Court battle to overturn the government decision leading to a fresh planning application being lodged.
Mr Gilding added: "It should be remembered that this scheme has been through a four-day public enquiry and almost every appeal court in the land, and at every single stage the application has been turned down.
"It seems only right that those people that enjoy visiting Delamere Forest for family walks, unbothered by traffic, should be afforded similar appeals to those pursued by the developers and I look to those councillors on the Cheshire West and Chester planning committee, who voted unanimously against this application, to ask the relevant questions of their own legal department as to what can be done to overturn this short sighted decision."
Simon Hodgson, chief executive of Forest Enterprise, the part of the Forestry Commission that manages the nation’s forests, said in a statement: “We are delighted that our vision for Delamere Forest can now be realised, improving the visitor experience and working with the environment to solve many of the challenges the location currently experiences.
“We look forward to working with the local community, our visitors and our partners to fulfil our exciting plans for the forest.
“Evidence and experience from our other nine Forest Holidays locations show that they quickly become part of the local community and contribute substantially to the local economy. The Forest Holidays cabin site will broaden the experiences that visitors to Delamere will be able to enjoy and it will also contribute valuable income to help the Forestry Commission maintain the recreational facilities for years to come.”