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Derbyshire holiday lodge site allowed to keep swimming pool after winning planning appeal

May 12, 2023

The leisure complex at the Knights Lodges site has already been built

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The well-known owners of a popular but controversial Derbyshire holiday lodge site have won a Government appeal to keep a leisure complex they have already built. A Government planning inspector has allowed plans for the leisure complex, including a swimming pool, on the Knights Lodges site in Bretby's Knights Lane after an appeal.

South Derbyshire District Council had refused one set of the leisure complex plans on the site, owned by the Willshee family of the waste management and skip hire firm Willshee's. This follows a three-year attempt at getting planning permission, through three different applications, with the leisure complex already on site and close to being fully built by the time the inspector, Ian Radcliffe, visited the property.

Three iterations of the leisure complex have now been approved, two by the council and one at appeal, with the battle starting in April 2020. The newly-approved version of the complex will provide extra space for a gym and a games room in addition to the swimming pool and had been initially applied for in August 2021 and finally refused by councillors in July 2022.

Read more: Holiday lodges on Derbyshire green field site built without planning permission

This version of the plans adds 81 square metres to the overall size of the building, something the council felt was too much in a rural location. Tweaked plans for the leisure centre were approved by the council after the appeal had been filed, and the owners had said they would pull that appeal if the altered plans were given the green light.

Councillors begrudgingly did so in late August 2022 after being warned by the family's agent to "avoid the inevitable consequences at appeal". However, the appeal proceeded and has resulted in planning permission for a different design, meaning the applicant can effectively pick which one to carry through to completion.

Mr Radcliffe, the planning inspector, writes: "The preponderance of stone over wood cladding would make the building appear more substantial than the original permission. However, as a focal point of the spacious holiday park that is otherwise occupied by smaller, wooden-clad lodges, this would not be harmful.

"Moreover, the contrasting use of stone, wood and glazing would help provide relief to the building's elevations. Given the screening effect of the roadside heading on the parking spaces and parked cars, the number of parking spaces that would be provided would also be acceptable.

"As a holiday park in a rural area, there is no evidence before me that these leisure needs are met by existing facilities within easy access of the holiday park. I, therefore, conclude that the appeal proposal would be a building that is appropriate in scale for the proposed leisure uses and that its visual impact has been sufficiently well-controlled through good design for its effect on the character of the area to be acceptable."

Mr Radcliffe said the facilities can only be used by holiday lodge customers and their guests and says the site must have an electric vehicle charging point and a bike parking area. The Willshee family applied for their appeal costs to be paid for by the council – and ultimately taxpayers – after dubbing the authority's behaviour "unreasonable".

They said the council's case against the plans had led to an "unnecessary" and "wholly avoidable" appeal. Its appeal for costs details "this case represents a failure on behalf of the local planning authority, especially its planning committee members, and disregard for the principles that underpin the costs regime".

The submission claims the council gave "punitive reasons for refusal" based on "nothing more than members’ personal opinion" leading to preventing and delaying development. After this, the council submitted a rebuttal statement saying it refuted the claims for "unreasonable behaviour" through preventing and delaying development, saying it acted properly and sought to work with the owners, including approving tweaked plans for the leisure complex while the appeal was pending.

In a separate decision, Mr Radcliffe ruled that the council "did not act unreasonably", saying it was a matter of "planning judgement" which, while he did not agree with it, was valid. He also said he can only act on comments made by the council, not those made by councillors, with the applicants "perturbed" by statements from members of the planning committee.

Last August councillors butted heads with the Willshee family over the Knights Lodges site due to a series of plans, including the leisure centre, which had been built without permission and then applied for after. This included eight holiday lodges, half of those on the site, which had been built and operated since April 2022 without permission – but applied for in early 2020.

The holiday lodges the site owners applied for, and were granted permission, were supposed to be temporary units which could be removed from the countryside site, but what the owners built instead – without permission – were permanent installations. These were eight larger permanent lodges, built out of breeze blocks and clad in timber, instead of being prefabricated pods placed onto a concrete base which could be removed.

At the August meeting councillors railed against the applicant for a persistent use of "retrospective planning applications", building first and asking for permission later despite retaining the services of a professional planning agent. Councillor Andrew Churchill, a district councillor, had said there was a "pattern of overt non-compliance" from the developer which risked "weakening the planning process at the district council".

An agent for the family said the permanent style of lodges were built because there was a three-year waiting list for the temporary model, saying "we have our cap firmly in our hand" (asking for forgiveness)."

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