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Retrospective bid for camping site would “harm” the landscape

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WESTBURY town councillors have objected to a retrospective bid for a camping and glamping site already part-built in Wellhead Valley.

Highways, planning and development  committee members carried a majority vote against the plans to transform Long River Farm  (formerly the White Horse Equestrian  Centre) from agricultural to tourism use,  saying it would harm the character of the area. 

The application by Mrs L Awdry of Long River Farm included a caravan park, a commercial building which is partly built, to house showers, washing machines and toilets and the construction of 12 glamping pods – six of which are already built. It has seen a raft of objections since its submission, with over 40 letters sent in opposing the plans, raising traffic and environmental concerns.

Speaking at the meeting via phone, local resident, Verity Bartlett, said the application form was incomplete and that the bid should be refused on grounds of safety because the existing access could not take the increased traffic. “The applicant has not suggested an alternative route to and from the highway,” she said.

Verity said the applicant’s forecast of vehicular movements was “vague at best’ and added,  “The Wellhead Valley has intrinsic beauty and I believe it would be adversely affected by the application.”

Proposing objection, cllr Gordon King said the site  lies within a special landscape area of importance; Long River Road was principally a recreational footpath and formed an inadequate junction with Newtown, and the development appeared to obstruct Long River Road. 

He added that there was no mention in the plan of access to, or disposal of water at the site. 

“It is clear that the development will become  a highly visible and prominent feature in an important landscape,” cllr King said.

“This is an area of regional importance and attracts a higher than average number of vehicular movements for a road of its class,” he added. 

“Westbury Town Council considers that such a prominent feature in the landscape is sufficient to alter its unique character and identity, to the extent that the recreation users of the right of way will no longer derive the same level of enjoyment that they once did,” cllr King said.  

“This development, rather than adding to or enhancing the landscape,  is harmful to the open character of the countryside and undoubtedly presents significant and demonstrable harm to the special landscape area.

“The junction of Long River Road with Newtown is inadequate with the visibility and access for the safe operation of the development as proposed and will be a hazard for other road users in Newtown.”

He added, “The development will be a prominent feature within the special landscape area and as such, will erode rather than enhance the special landscape area.”

In agreement, cllr Sheila Kimmins said, “It’s not only 12 pods that will be there, they are advertising for 15 caravans and 15 tents,. Anyone trying to get a caravan up there is going to have great difficulty.”

She said she was concerned about points raised by consultees Wessex Water that there were restrictions about how much building could be done near water mains at the site, yet foundations had already been laid. 

Cllr Kimmins concluded, “This is not in keeping with the area, not safe, and needs to be refused.”

Cllr Mike Sutton said he had been in two minds about the application because of the employment opportunities it could bring. But he said he was concerned about the impact on the right of way and said the bid could be “death by 1000 cuts” - the incremental additions of buildings resulting in a concrete environment.

He added that retrospective applications were disrespectful to the planning process.

However cllr Jane Russ, a camper herself, said she thought the development would be fine. “It’s not a large site or a caravan park with a clubhouse. The kinds of campsites that people like us – with a tent or who are glamping – are looking for are quiet, rural,” she told members.

“They are not looking to close the drove road, just looking to leave the area open as it is – there’s not a huge difference.”

She said she wanted more detail about water access and disposal and added that she thought only caravans of a  limited size would be permitted in Long River Road. 

Cllr Brenda Pyne  said she sympathised with the owner, trying to make more money in difficult times, but added, “I think the Wellhead Valley is one of Westbury’s gems and I think we have a duty to try and protect it. Westbury has little enough to set it as a place of worth.”

Cllr Mike Kettlety questioned whether there was a “little bit of NIMBYism” going on and suggested the development could bring valuable income to Westbury. “We shouldn’t brush this aside because we don’t like the idea of outsiders coming to Westbury and having a good time here,” he told members. “We should look at this in the round.”

Long River Road had previously been used by large grain lorries, he said,  so he did not think anyone used to towing a caravan would have a problem.

Cllr Ward Jones said, “It’s a good application but it’s the wrong location. There’s a totally inadequate infrastructure.” He added they needed to listen to the strength of local opinion.

The deadline for public comments on the plan has passed and a decision is expected by Wiltshire Council on Monday 18th January.

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