Rural visitor attractions & museums Q & A DCP Section 18.4

This section covers the planning control of countryside and seaside visitor attractions, ranging from funfairs to theme parks and farms open to the public. These are the type of destinations, often open air, selected for day trips, whether by tourists staying in the area or by people living within a reasonable driving distance. Urban museums and attractions are dealt with under (17.5) and sports centres under (18.1). Outdoor sport and active leisure pursuits are to be found at (18.2). Equestrian related enterprises are considered under (23.2). For dwellings associated with leisure/tourist attractions see (9.232).

Q & A    18.4/10

We act for a client proposing a children's animal farm as a form of rural diversification. The council is recommending approval subject to an agreement or condition limiting visitor numbers and the use of best endeavours to secure bus provision. We wonder whether these requirements are acceptable and if there are precedents?

Allowed cases relating to this type of use do not often feature at appeal.  However, looking at rural visitor attractions as a whole it is clear that local authorities are rightly concerned to secure that such developments, if acceptable in principle, remain limited in their capacity, and do not grow into enterprises which would create highway/amenity problems, or cause landscape harm.  The problem with visitor number ceiling conditions is enforceability, and curbs on the amount of parking or opening hours are often looked at as better alternatives. However, reference has to be made to the Yorkshire Dales case (see Casebook 25 August 2000: DCS No.036-562-616) concerning a garden open to the public, where a wide range of restrictive conditions were applied by an inspector, including a detailed visitor management scheme. Conditions or agreements relating to bus access may be justified as part of the concept of green transport planning urged by PPG13, but their utility has to be tempered by the ability of a particular applicant to influence the way in which clients make their way to a proposed enterprise.

I have a client who is considering making an application for a substantial leisure complex just within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) designation, but should I be telling him not to waste his time and money?

The number of call-in or appeal cases involving large scale new build developments within an AONB is very small indeed and hardly any have been allowed.  This is indicative of the very tight controls which are exercised in AONBs as set out in PPG7, and the recent extension of National Park criteria thereto only serves to tighten the screw further. Clearly very special circumstances are needed to justify development within an AONB. The well known Center Parc case at Longleat in Wiltshire is one example where ten years ago economic need, enabling gain and a discreet location in woodland combined to tip the balance in favour of permission after call-in. Another situation where permission may possibly be contemplated would be where landscape quality has already been severely compromised but this would be a very exceptional circumstance. My advice, without knowing the planning context and history of your client's land, is that the attainment of planning permission is extremely unlikely.

A local farmer has been running a "maize maze" attraction in a field using another field as a car park. This has been very popular but has created a create deal of congestion and annoyance to myself and other residents living close to the narrow lane which serves the site. The use has now ceased as the corn has been harvested for animal feed, but what planning controls are possible in anticipation of resumption next year?

This activity is a material change of use of the land while it lasts but may operate for 28 days in any calendar year using the rights given in Part 4 Class B of the GPDO.  You need to ask your local planning authority to advise the farmer in question of this limitation and to request a planning application from him if it is intended to exceed the 28 day allowance in 2004.

Are you aware of any case law on the use of football stadiums for pop concerts? I am aware of the Twickenham case which ruled that the stadium did not have a D2 use but believe there was another case recently which considered the point. Presumably, a one-off concert would be considered "incidental" but if held on a regular basis would involve a material change of use?

In the case to which you refer, Rugby Football Union (RFU) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2002], the courts upheld an inspector’s ruling that Twickenham stadium was not a "concert hall". The RFU had argued that a "concert hall" and "concert arena" both fell within Class D2, as did use as a sports stadium. However, it was adjudged that the stadium could not be a concert hall within the meaning given in the Use Classes Order because it was not enclosed. It was necessary for the physical characteristics, in this case a roof, to be present for the change of use to be exploited. I agree that a single concert would be considered an incidental use. Clearly, the point at which any further events would trigger a material change of use and require permission is a matter of fact and degree. I am not aware of any other case that has considered this matter. Can any reader help?

Response

The Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975 requires a safety certificate for the admission of spectators for whatever purpose, in which the controlling local authority must specify the 'permitted activities'. My authority made a conscious decision to specify only football matches. This means that any special activity like a pop concert requires a specific amendment to the certificate, if indeed the authority considers that such an event should be held at all. It enables the dynamic testing of stands to be conditioned, plus the assessment of special means of escape, given that stadiums are usually designed for a restricted number of seated spectators and not a leaping crowd on a pitch area. Each event can therefore be subject to its own particular requirements. But the legislation does not control the effects such a use could have on the surrounding area and it therefore seems up to planning legislation to control both those and the principle of the use. However, if each concert is treated as a one-off within the Safety at Sports Grounds Act, it follows that treating a pop concert as 'incidental' in planning use terms weakens the proper regulation of both safety within, and the effects outside, the venue in question.

Are football stadia classed as 'greenfield' land? Whilst on the face of it this may seem obvious, PPG3 does not specifically refer to such grounds and their facilities. The definition of previously-developed land excludes parks, recreation grounds and allotments. Given that major football stadia contain much more than grass: notably stands, restaurants, conference facilities and so forth do they fall into this category?

I can find no case where this matter has been debated. As you say, recreation grounds are specifically excluded from the definition of previously-developed land set out at Annex C of PPG3. However, while sports pitches and other recreation grounds may retain their overall character as undeveloped areas of open space, despite the presence of urban features such as pavilions and other buildings, these can be distinguished from stadia, which are essentially playing areas that are enclosed and dominated by built development of a distinctly more urban nature and appearance. The matter is therefore arguable. Readers’ views are invited.


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