Failed applications by Forest Holidays
This page gives details of the misguided attempts by Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission in 2013-15 to develop a large undisturbed part of Fineshade Wood as a holiday resort.
FH and FC staff ready to "consult".
Photo: Northants Telegraph
A cabin staked out amid bluebells - it was very obviously Ancient Woodland
Elsewhere on the web...
Comment on ENC decision by Mark Avery
"The Forestry Commission come out of this very badly indeed. Are our forests safe in their hands? Often, they are. In this case, FC seem to have lost their marbles".
A close shave for Fineshade by Buglife CEO, Matt Sharlow
"The local feeling is strong, the public gallery was overflowing, and the Forestry Commission appeared to have no-one’s support for the proposal".
"Forestry Commission land such as this belongs to the nation, while majority venture capitalist-owned Forest Holidays is profiting from its use."
Fineshade Wood - Save Our Forest! Kingscliffe Village website
"I glanced across to David Williamson, Head of Recreation for the Forestry Commission, who by now had his head in his hands and was looking quite despairing."
September 2012 - Fineshade goes on a secret list
A Framework Agreement was drawn up between the Forestry Commission (FC) and Forest Holidays (FH) and that included a list of 19 sites where the company would have exclusive rights to develop holiday accommodation on the Public Forest Estate. It only came to light much later that Fineshade had been placed on that so-called Exclusivity List by Central District FC team.
November 2013 - a leak
Fineshade residents first became aware (by means of a leak) of the plans to build a large holiday complex in Fineshade Wood. It later emerged that FC/FH had been having confidential discussions with council officials for some time. There was talk of a "fast track" planning application with no more than a desk-top ecological survey. On 8th January 2014 there was a meeting with East Northants Council at which FH introduced themselves to the elected councillors who formed the planning committee - with no public attendance allowed.
February 2014 - a "consultation"
No official communication with residents took place until the Forestry Commission arranged a "consultation" meeting at Top Lodge on 6th February. The 20 residents of Top Lodge and other "interested parties" were invited. It was clear that the Commission had totally underestimated the number of people who would attend because they planned to use a small upstairs room. When it was clear that concerned people were coming from all over the area the meeting was moved to a bigger room. Plans were displayed but not made available to take away: attempts to prevent supporters taking photos of the plans failed. FH staff were besieged with questions and protestations and local Commission staff were clearly discomforted and embarrassed. This plan (Plan A) was for 76 lodges in a 28 hectare site, much of which included what appeared to be Ancient Woodland.
A particular feature of this meeting was that it was clear that FH had no intention to carry out any independent ecological detailed surveys unless they were required to do so by East Northants Council. The reason given for this position was that, once given permission to proceed, the company could, (of course!) be trusted to use consultants and FC expertise to identify and mitigate for any problems with protected species. They were in a hurry and hoped to rail-road a planning application past East Northants Council. Proper surveys would, of course, delay their ability to get the site open for business in a few months' time, as they wished. On the same day FH/FC addressed an open and very hostile meeting of Duddington-with-Fineshade Parish Council.
April 2014 - redrawing the Ancient Woodland boundary
Forest Holidays, under pressure from the Woodland Trust, commissioned a survey of the areas that appeared, to all except FH/FC, to be Ancient Woodland. As expected, John Handley's survey agreed that parts of the proposed development area were indeed on AW and Natural England agreed to redraw the AW boundary.
(For more details please see here)
June 2014 - a first planning application
Another so called consultation was held early in the month. This was for "immediate neighbours" only and this time absolutely no pretence was made of listening to or taking account of residents' views. Rather it was simply an announcement that an application was imminent with an access road positioned much closer to the residential houses. Very soon afterwards, planning application 14/01157/FUL for 70 cabins was submitted to East Northants Council. (Plan B). It contained only a "Preliminary Ecological report" - meaning that areas of the proposed site had not been surveyed and surveys of some wildlife groups such as bats and birds had not been carried out at all.
August 2014 - an amendment
The deadline for comments and objections had passed, but FH were allowed to amend their application by producing a final ecological report and nominating a mitigation and enhancement area to provide "alternative habitat for species that may be affected by the proposed development".
September 2014 - application withdrawn... and resubmitted
It was pointed out that the proposed mitigation area was Ancient Woodland, so FH tried for yet another amendment. This was refused but an alternative ruse was proposed and accepted by the Planning Officer - FH could withdraw the application and resubmit it the next day. This would have the additional benefit of making null and void all the objections that had been made to the plan. There had been 183 public comments, only 4 of which were supportive.
The new application (14/01704/FUL) was for the erection of seventy cabins and associated buildings and infrastructure, construction of new access road and provision of a new mitigation and enhancement area. (Plan C- see map below)
Winter 2014-15 - the need for an EIA
Objections to the new planning application came in during the winter and many individuals and environmental groups including the council's own ecological adviser, the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants, called for a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out because of the wildlife richness of the site. This was steadfastly opposed by the Planning Officer and not offered by the developer. The council's Development Control Committee met in December and decided to defer a decision pending a ruling by the National Planning Casework Unit as to the need for an EIA.
February 2015 - a rejection
By now the case had provoked a national outcry, particularly among environmental groups and charities, many of which had submitted strong objections to the council.
By the time the matter was considered again by the ENC planning committee there were a total of 149 new objections from members of the public plus many others from stautory consultees such as the local parish councils, CPRE, RSPB, etc.
The committee decided unanimously to reject the application. Full reports of that meeting can be read by following the links opposite.
September 2015 - no appeal
Forest Holidays are said to be very litigious, even appealling (unsuccesfully) against the Secretary of State's ruling refusing their proposals to develop green-belt land in Cheshire. It therefore seemed likely that they would appeal against the ENC decision at Fineshade, but their lawyers must have advised that the reasons given by ENC for rejection (see below) were absolutely water-tight.
On 12th September the six months period allowed for an appeal expired. Application number 14/01704/FUL was defeated - this part of the Public Forest Estate would not be leased out for private gain.
2016 - a proposed new application
Early in the year news reached us that Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission intended to apply again. You can read more about the continuing threat here.
Refusal of Planning Permission
Under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the Local Planning Authority hereby REFUSE PLANNING PERMISSION for the above development in accordance with the application and plans submitted, for the following reasons:
The applicant has failed to demonstrate that the development would not have an adverse impact on biodiversity at the site. In addition, the applicant has also failed to demonstrate that the proposed mitigation area would adequately compensate for any harm caused to biodiversity as a result of the proposed development. As such, the proposal is contrary to policies 5 and 13(o) of the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy (2008), policy 11 of the Rural North, Oundle and Thrapston Plan (2011) and paragraphs 109 and 118 of the National Planning Policy Framework.
The proposal, as a result of the welcome centre, dispersed lodges, driveways and ancillary features within the wood, together with the activity arising from lodge residents, car parking and vehicle movements, would be detrimental to the character, appearance and tranquillity of the wood contrary to policy 13(o) of the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy (2008), paragraphs 17 and 64 of the National Planning Policy Framework and policy 3 of the North Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy Pre Submission Plan (January 2015)
Reason for Decision
1. In reaching this decision this Council has implemented the requirement in the NPPF to deliver sustainable development in a proactive and positive way in accordance with paragraphs 186 and 187. Regard has been had to the 12 core planning principles in the NPPF and the more specific policies. In addition the Development Plan and other material considerations have been taken into account as required by Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
Decision Date : 12 March 2015
Signed: David Reed, Head of Planning Services
What effect does this have on the
Forest Commission's reputation?
... failed to demonstrate that the development would not have an adverse impact on biodiversity...
... would be detrimental to the character, appearance and tranquillity of the wood...
Map of Plan C
This shows the area of the Forest Holidays site as in their last proposal which was rejected in 2015. Marked in orange are the 2 miles of new roads with the access route coming through the existing FC carpark, bottom left. Red lines show the extent of the area that would be leased, with the mitigation area bounded by two managed rides.