Controversial plans to create a 67-cabin holiday park at Delamere Forest are recommended for approval when the scheme goes before councillors next week.
The original Forestry Commission/Forest Holiday scheme was backed by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) in 2013 but rejected 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.
The decision followed a powerful grass roots campaign by Communities Against Delamere’s Destruction (CADD).
From 4pm next Tuesday (April 4) CWaC’s planning committee will consider a revised version of the £15m project that will include 67 timber 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.
Planning officer Mike Allard recommends approval of the scheme claiming the ‘very special circumstances’ exist to allow development in the green belt because of economic, traffic management and recreational benefits although the final decision will again rest with government.
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.”
Andy Medhurst, Forestry Commission 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 local economy stands to benefit to the tune of around £2.4 million a year with the vision expected to create an extra 37 on site jobs and 45 roles within the immediate area.
Nigel Gilding, who led the CADD campaign last time, said in his objection: “The speed of the current application along with very different personal circumstances has resulted in me being unable to continue the highly publicised fight this time around, but the weight of public feeling generated by this application against these new proposals is no less than it was the first time around.
“I have received very many emails from people, who as well as still being against the holiday lodge and road proposals are now also outraged that having been the subject of a democratic legal process, the principle of holiday lodge development in Delamere is once again being tested by a corporate entity hiding behind the respectable (so-called) face of the Forestry Commission.”
Among the many objectors is the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) due to ‘inappropriate development’ in the green belt and Manley Parish Council who argue the economic impact assessment is ‘deeply flawed not to say deliberately exaggerated’.
Supporters include Marketing Cheshire, the agency that promotes the county nationally and internationally, who agree with the applicants there is a short-fall of high quality self-catering accommodation of the type that would be provided.
Chief executive Katrina Michel wrote: “With Cheshire boasting top attractions such as Chester Zoo, the Salt Works, racecourse and Anderton Boat Lift, Forest Holidays’ cabins offers a sustainable tourism model, complementing our vision and bringing in visitors from across the country to help put Cheshire firmly on the map.”