Successful rejection of a retrospective planning application at Westbury
The owner of the present White Horse Equestrian Centre retrospectively applied to convert a large part of the farm into a tourist campsite consisting of caravans, glamping pods, tents, car park, new toilet/shower block, relocating a mobile home, converting a stable block for community use and providing access off part of the ancient Drove Road public bridleway. As a result of the many well-reasoned objections and serious comments, particularly by the Statutory Authorities, Wiltshire Council decided on 8th February 2021 to reject the application.
Work had commenced on site (without permission) in July, 2020. Low loaders delivered excavators and foundations and drainage and services trenches were excavated. Readymix lorries concreted the shower block foundations and structural steel and cladding erected for the toilet/shower block.
Many objections were submitted to Wiltshire Council (WC) by worried residents, Westbury Town Councillors, The White Horse Alliance (WHA), The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Statutory Authorities (Wessex Water Authority, The Environment Agency, Natural England and The Highways Agency) A holding objection was issued by Wessex Water Authority because the toilet/shower block was being erected too close to their high pressure water main which means that either the building would have to be relocated or the main diverted.
If this development was permitted, it would have a devastating effect on the beautiful landscape of the Wellhead Valley which only has “Special Landscape Area” (SLA) status. The WHA and CPRE were very worried that the light and noise pollution created by a campsite would further desecrate the idyllic and tranquil setting of the valley and disturb the many species of bats, dormice and owls who forage in the valley at night. This development would become the “Thin end of the wedge” leading to further damaging development and the loss of a very valuable landscape setting. The valley and the White Horse Escarpment are currently under review by Natural England to designate the area as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” (AONB) and if this development (and any other damaging development were allowed), then it would hamper NE’s ability to designate the area as an AONB. See this news article for more on this proposal.
WC rejected the application because the location wasn’t suitable for tourism but before the objection notice was served, the owner decided to withdraw the application. Prior to the decision, WC had said that the application could be considered as a “Change of use with minimal building works” but obviously WC eventually decided against this inaccurate description and made the correct decision.
Although work continued at pace from July, 2020, WC’s Enforcement team and Building Control were unable to get involved until a decision had been made. Therefore none of the statutory Building Control stage inspections were carried out prior to concreting foundations or backfilling drains etc. CPRE and residents were worried that excavators had excavated two landfilled banks to make way for the new toilet/shower block and the mobile home that was relocated without permission. CPRE have asked WC if designed reinforced concrete retaining walls were included as part of the application.
Since the decision, the Enforcement Team and Building control have visited the site and discussed with the owner the removal of unpermitted works. The Wiltshire and Westbury councillor has liaised with WC regarding removal and reinstatement of the site and he said he will monitor the action by the owner.