Forest visitor centre and cabins would harm green belt

A call-in scheme for the re-organisation of an existing forest visitor hub facility to provide a replacement visitor centre, the change of use of an existing visitor centre to offices; demolition of existing offices and 70 new cabins in Cheshire has been refused due to green belt harm.

The application related to two separate areas of land within Delamere Forest with the new cabins being proposed in an area of undeveloped forest. The forest as a whole was also designated as an area of special county value (ASCV). The secretary of state agreed with his inspector that factors weighing in favour of the proposal included a significant economic benefit from the visitor centre; an economic benefit from the cabins which attracted less weight; a modest weight arising from a visual amenity improvement through re-location of polytunnels; enhanced biodiversity at both sites; and minimal weight arising from a funding benefit to secure the visitor centre.

The secretary of state also found that, in road safety terms for recreational users of the forest and despite an existing lack of traffic, the predicted volumes would be low and new trails and routes would ensure that dual use of a forest access track could be avoided so that vehicle and user interaction would be minimal. He also considered that positive measures were proposed to prevent forest users emerging onto a trafficked route unawares. Overall, the likely effects arising from issues of noise and disturbance, access and highway safety were not so significant as to warrant refusal. The proposal would not cause harm to highway safety and this neutral outcome carried no weight in favour of the development

Weighing against the proposal was a substantial harm to the green belt and a modest harm to the character and appearance of the ASCV. The secretary of state found that the benefits, when added together, were not sufficient to clearly outweigh the totality of the harm to the green belt by way of inappropriateness. For these reasons the very special circumstances necessary to justify the proposed development package in the green belt did not exist.

Inspector: Wenda Fabian; Inquiry

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