Promise of jobs and economic boost outweigh residents' concerns

The proposed site of the holiday park near Widdrington. Picture from Google
The proposed site of the holiday park near Widdrington. Picture from Google

A major new tourist development in Northumberland has been given the green light, despite a number of local concerns.

Plans for the large holiday park on the former Steadsburn opencast mine site were approved by 12 votes to two at Tuesday’s (December 4) meeting of the county council’s strategic planning committee.

However, this is subject to several matters being ironed out, not least a holding objection from Network Rail, which has concerns about potential increased risk at nearby level crossings on the East Coast Mainline.

As well as objections to the application itself, residents and parish councillors in nearby Widdrington were angry about the consultation process following an error in the site’s location.

It had been on the agenda for the previous month, however, the day before the meeting, the application was withdrawn amid concerns the community had not had a fair chance to have its say.

At that meeting, Liz Sinnamon, from the council’s planning department, explained that it had come to light after the agenda had been drawn up that the application had been listed in the wrong parish.

While the correct parish council – Widdrington Village – had been consulted during the process, the application remained in the wrong parish on the authority’s online planning portal.

Speaking at the meeting, Coun Dale Page, from the parish council, said: “We believe the development cannot be safely accommodated by the local infrastructure.”

A Widdrington resident added that there was ‘no evidence’ for the economic benefits claimed by the applicant, Callaly Leisure, and that it was a ‘complete fabrication’ for planners to suggest that residential amenity will not be harmed.

But a representative of the company said that the planning process, which started more than a year ago with discussions with ward member Coun Scott Dickinson and the parish council, had been ‘absolutely transparent’.

He also focused on the positives of the development – the creation of 100 full-time and 30 part-time jobs and £7-8million of annual visitor spending in the local economy.

On this issue, the report to councillors said: ‘Notwithstanding the comments of objectors regarding these figures, it is considered that a development of this scale would bring significant benefits to the local economy in terms of job creation and visitor spending’.

The application was discussed for some time, with a series of questions asked of officers, before Coun Trevor Thorne moved approval, saying he believed that all of the issues had been dealt with rigorously.

But Coun Jeff Reid said: “At first you think it’s a really good idea, a good boost to tourism and a sound business plan, but when you get there, you think it’s too big, too disruptive. I’m by no means a nimby, but I think that is going to impact negatively on too many lives in the vicinity.”

Coun Barry Flux said: “I have a lot of sympathy for residents in this area because it’s very large compared to the village, but, in all honesty, I can’t see a planning reason to refuse it.”

Coun Bernard Pidcock added that residents in Widdrington have had ‘an awful deal’ with what was once a remote, rural village, before open-casting came followed by ‘abysmal’ restoration and even the burial of corpses from the foot and mouth outbreak, but he still seconded the approval.

What was being decided was a hybrid application seeking full planning permission for the scheme’s first phase and outline approval for the second stage.

Phase one is for the creation of a holiday park with up to 275 static caravan pitches, 200 all-weather pitches for tourers/tents, a two-storey main building, a toilet/shower block, a workshop building, 475 parking spaces, outdoor play provision including a play area and lakeside beach, water-based leisure activities plus roads, footpaths and landscaping.

The main building would include a swimming pool, sauna, indoor play space, catering facilities, reception/office accommodation, beauty treatments floorspace, a laundry area and a small shop.

The phase two works would comprise a further 475 bases for holiday homes with a lakeside café – a nine-hole golf course has now been dropped from the proposals.

The scheme is also subject to a section 106 legal agreement to secure to secure a coastal ecology mitigation contribution of £271,200, further ecology mitigation in respect of Maiden’s Hall Lake to the north of the application site and compensatory off-site bridleway provision.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service