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Rejected holiday park near Lancaster 'could have created 720 new jobs'

An artist's impression of the proposed Ellel Holiday Village

A Lancaster businessman has spoken out after plans for a major new holiday park were refused - saying it could have boosted the local economy by £30m per year and created 720 new jobs.

Martin Higginson spoke to Beyond Radio after proposals for 'Ellel Holiday Village' - up to 450 new holiday lodges, an eco-park, hotel and virtual reality wildlife experience on land south of Lancaster - were rejected.

Lancaster City Council planning committee agreed with recommendations that the scheme be refused, at a meeting at Morecambe Town Hall on Monday.

Mr Higginson, representing the applicants, said he was "saddened by the result".

LISTEN to Martin Higginson talking about today's decision to reject the plans 

"This is something we wanted to put our own money into to help regenerate the area," he said.

"It would be the largest rewilding project in the north of England. It’s a sad day for Lancaster and the surrounding areas, because there won’t be 720 jobs created, there won't be an additional £30m of income, per year, for the local community.

"I think a hotel is needed. I think people visiting Lancaster University are looking for a hotel to go to, and that will drag people in to visit the area.

"We wanted to create little artisan pods so people could show artisan craft, with everything based on turnover to encourage entrepreneurialism in the area.

"This was about creating something completely different. Unfortunately, people don’t like change, we know that. But I think if they’d have allowed it and worked with us to understand it, this would have created something that’s not just a massive rewilding centre, but lodges being sited in the beautiful countryside, the jobs, and all that cash going back into the community."

Proposals for the new park, on around 50 hectares of land at Home Farm, Ellel Grange, close to the A6, included a 'Home Farm' hub centred around renovated farm buildings, to potentially include restaurants and bars, a spa and swimming pool as well as a market garden/plant sales. Outbuildings could have become stables to provide horse-riding to guests.

A proposed new Marketplace on the site was described as "a fabulous new leisure destination and commercial centre which will provide a range of facilities under one roof including; farm shop, food hall, 100 bed hotel and function suite" and "Virtual Reality Zoo and outdoor activity centre" next to it.

Pods would be “leased to artisan businesses or individuals who will manufacture a range of goods which will in turn be sold from the marketplace".

There would also be parking on the site, bike and buggy hire, and "significant areas of open space, soft landscaping, play space, tree planting, habitat creation and retention of established woodlands".

A map of the site and proposals can be seen below. 

But the council has received more than 760 objections to the plans, as well as just under 100 contacts who supported the proposal.

Council officers recommended the plans be refused.

One of the reasons was because the site is crossed by the Northwest Ethylene Pipeline, which is designated as a Major Accident Hazard Pipeline.

But Mr Higginson said: "The pipeline isn’t being used, there’s no ethanol produced at Grangemouth, which is going to close in 2025. The pipeline is 30 years old and is past its useful life."

Council officers also said the plans "fail to preserve the open nature and character of the area resulting in a significant harm to the landscape character of the site, the visual amenity of the area, setting of the Grade II Listed Ellel Grange, the historically designed parkland setting and the value and integrity of the canal corridor as an important green space".

Three people who are opposed to the scheme spoke out against it at the meeting on Monday.

They included Andy Taylor, director of Ellel Grange. The Grange, a country house on the site, is used as a Christian fellowship retreat.

Mr Taylor said Ellel Grange was a "historic and tranquil environment" and the plans would have "a massively detrimental impact on those who come here from all over the world".

Alex Sayer, who owns a farm next to the site, called on the council to "protect the woodland".

"Home Farm is a beautiful place and home to all manner of wildlife," said Mr Sayer.

"It's a totally inappropriate site for such a large development."

Robert Hay of The Christian Trust at Ellel Grange, said wildlife would be "scared away" by the development and the VR wildlife experience was "likely to be a poor substitute for the real thing".

There were also concerns raised about a rise in traffic and potential for accidents, although it was pointed out that both county and national Highways had no objections to the scheme, and debate over the use of a narrow driveway for holidaymakers to use buggies to access the site.

In a vote of councillors, 11 of them (Sandra Thornberry, Dave Brookes, Sue Tyldesley, Sally Maddocks, Phil Bradley, Roger Dennison, John Hanson, Martin Gawith, Mandy Bannon, Joyce Pritchard and Claire Cozler) voted to agree with recommendations and reject the scheme. Two councillors (Keith Budden and Alan Greenwell) abstained and Councillor Colin Hartley voted against the recommendation as the only councillor to back the proposal.

Councillor Hartley said: "If we want to grow our local economy and maximize the benefit of the Eden Project (coming to Morecambe) this is something we should seriously be looking at."

But his Labour colleague Councillor Gawith said: "I went to look at the site. It has been cared for and looked after. It's there for the (Christian) charity and for others to enjoy as well. It is such an important site for local people and local leisure. It has wildlife and I think this (proposal) jeopardises that future."

Councillor Brookes, a Green, said talk of it being the largest rewilding project in the North was "green washing".

"Eden has a huge likelihood of regenerating Morecambe but this is out in the countryside," he said.

"It's a very different animal."

Councillor Sue Tyldesley of the Greens said: "There is a lot of ecology there I would be very loathe to interfere with and to lose."

And Councillor John Hanson of Labour said: "I feel for the people who live up there."

Mr Higginson, of M Capital Investment Partners who are working alongside landowners The Sandemann Trust on the plans, said afterwards: "I thought this was an opportunity to not only create lots of jobs, but to be a change for good.

"We’ll take our time, we’ll dust ourselves down.

"We may appeal this."

Read more: https://www.beyondradio.co.uk/news/local-news/plans-for-unique-holiday-village-with-hotel-vr-zoo-and-artisan-market-near-lancaster-could-be-refused/

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