CONTROVERSIAL plans to build 67 holiday cabins in Delamere Forest have gone to appeal, it has been confirmed.
Proposals by the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays were unanimously rejected by members of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee in April.
The applicants argued that income from the wooden chalets was vital to fund much-needed improvement to infrastructure, including car parks and toilets.
But many locals – including a prominent Chester barrister – saw the proposals as an attempt to privatise a valued community asset.
The Forestry Commission told the Leader yesterday that its £15 million “master plan” for Delamere Forest had been taken to appeal.
A spokesman said it would “ease the traffic problems for local people caused by the forest’s growing popularity over the past 20 years”.
The plans also include a new visitor centre “with facilities better suited to meet visitors’ needs, including toilets and a cafe; new and improved trails, cycle paths and bridleways; improved traffic flow and signs and more car parking spaces”.
She also stressed the 67 holiday cabins would be “built sensitively in the forest away from the main visitor area with no loss of access to local users”.
Bosses claim the cabins would generate about £200,000 of income every year to support the Forestry Commission’s upkeep of Delamere Forest.
Chief executive Simon Hodgson said: “Over 20 years the number of people wanting to come and enjoy Delamere Forest has risen to 750,000. This has had obvious impacts for residents and put pressure on our facilities.
“We have carefully listened to the views of residents and produced a plan to improve traffic around the forest in addition to creating new facilities to allow people to have a more enjoyable visit.
“We have included Forest Holidays in the proposal because our 40 years experience of having cabins in forests means we believe it can work sensitively and provide much-needed income to manage and enhance Delamere Forest.
“These plans will contribute £2.4 million a year to the local economy around Delamere, by creating local jobs, using local service suppliers and increasing tourism in the area.
“Forest Holidays encourages guests to explore the local area and visit local businesses and attractions during their stay.
“Our proposal had local support in 2013 but questions about the cabins were raised by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We believe we have carefully addressed those questions and I am determined to ensure our long-term plan for Delamere Forest become a reality and benefits local people, our many visitors and the economy.”
At the April planning meeting barrister Simon Medland QC told the committee he was speaking on behalf of “ordinary, sensible folk” who believed the holiday camp plans amounted to a “massive, effectively permanent privatisation of the forest”.
“We are all defined by choices we make in life,” he said. “The choice today is either Delamere Forest is conserved as a mixed environment for the good of the wider community or turned into a privatised playground.”
He argued that the proposals were not dissimilar to a housing development, as they included permanent structures and inevitable road and access improvements.
“If a house builder came to this council and said ‘I want to build 67 houses in the forest they’d be laughed out of this building with a flea in their ear,” he said.
According to the application, the only benefit it would bring are a measly 38 jobs, Mr Medland added.
Urging the committee to refuse the application, he said: “Judas was rightly condemned for selling out Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Will this committee sell out Delamere Forest for 38 jobs?”
The committee then rejected the plans on the grounds of inappropriate development of the green belt.
Cllr Tom Blackmore said: “It’s the destruction of Delamere Forest and the urbanisation of it.”
And Cllr Peter Rooney added: “This is not what should be in the middle of a quiet forest. It’s wholly inappropriate.”
Council officers had recommended the application for approval.
See full story in the Chester Leader