A key takeaway from this large rural tourism project has been the importance of effective communication and public engagement throughout the application process. As a result, we have obtained a planning approval which will secure the ongoing preservation of a beautiful wildlife reserve, via the provision of an education centre, tea room, fishing lakes and breeding ponds, 6 x eco-tourism cottages and associated worker accommodation. This positive outcome has seen the evolution of a disused quarry site into a wonderful wildlife facility for the local community.
From quarry to nature reserve – the project background
The site, a disused quarry in a very rural location, had historically been designated by the council as a nature reserve. However, it had not been maintained and was badly vandalised and overgrown. Our client had taken on the site with a vision to restore order and make the reserve a beautiful and educational facility for the wider community. To fund the upkeep and improvements to the reserve, 4x holiday cabins had been erected without planning permission and the Enforcement team at Maldon Council got involved. It was at this point that we were called in to assist and you can read more about the project background here.
Our initial engagement with the Enforcement Officer was useful. Through pragmatic discussions and a focus on the long-term goals of the site, we were able to agree that such a wide-ranging project would be better dealt with via pre-application and a subsequent planning application to enable the full vision for the site as an education facility, wildlife reserve, fishery and eco-tourism centre, rather than via an enforcement appeal.
Securing planning consent for large tourism projects
Following a successful pre-application, we worked with a diverse project team to collate the necessary reports and prepared a robust planning application which clearly evidenced the sustainable nature of the project in terms of its economic, social and ecological benefits.
The application was backed up with letters of support from The Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and local education groups. Through our work on the technical planning policy arguments in conjunction with our client’s efforts to secure support from relevant stakeholders and the wider community, we managed to illustrate the positives of the proposal on two fronts.
We worked proactively with the case officer and strategically navigated the project through the high number of queries such a complex scheme generates during the decision-making process, including securing a time extension to ensure the business plan and economic arguments could be properly stress tested and to give the project the best chance of a positive outcome.
Preparing for Planning Committee
Despite the many benefits of the scheme, the positive pre-application and the receipt of no objections from any statutory bodies, the case officer was minded to refuse the scheme. A key concern was the application’s conflict with some local policies.
Due to its large scale, the application would need to be decided at Planning Committee. Aware of this, from the outset we had ensured relevant stakeholders were kept up to date on the project and prior to the committee meeting we prepared letters to local councillors, highlighting the key facts of the project, which included:
• the wide-ranging benefits to local ecology, economy and the community;
• that such a large application had received no statutory consultee objections and had received over 50 letters of support from residents and organisations such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme;
• we acknowledged the minor policy conflicts but explained that with a scheme of this complexity, appeasing all policy would not necessarily be viable and that relevant material considerations existed to support a move away from certain policy compliance when looking at the public benefits of the scheme in the round.
We supported our client at Planning Committee and were absolutely delighted when the councillors gave a resounding approval to the scheme, against the planning officer’s recommendation for refusal.
We have hugely enjoyed being part of this project and are delighted that through our careful navigation of a complex case, we encouraged a holistic application of planning policy to ensure long term protection of a valuable nature reserve and community asset.
The team at Plainview Planning have been providing considered and effective planning support on commercial and developer projects for over a decade. If you need planning support with a development project, or are interested in understanding more about the development potential for your site then don’t hesitate to contact our team via email@example.com or submit your site using our Landmark Form to receive a no obligation fee quote.
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IMAGE SOURCE: Anglia Design Services (2018)