A plan to extend the UK’s first luxury sustainable holiday location has been given the green light, despite concerns the site is so severely contaminated with heavy metals that those who visit it are risking their health.
As Richmondshire District councillors voted to approve Natural Retreats’ scheme in open countryside to the west of Richmond, there were cries of “disgrace” from residents.
I am a little sad to hear so much despondency about the scheme. We want to encourage tourism.Coun Jamie Cameron
They claimed failures by the authority to enforce planning conditions over contaminants since it approved the self-catering holiday park – which features lodges currently on the market for £295,000 – in 2003 may have led to pollution in the River Swale.
The meeting heard a report by consultants Amec Foster Wheeler, which was published in June 2016, but not posted on the council’s website until December 2017, revealed highly elevated concentrations of lead and concentrations of copper, nickel and zinc had been found on the former Army rifle range and council landfill site.
The report states “there are potential unacceptable outstanding risks to human health should the remediation and mitigation measures recommended to the council in 2003 not have been implemented”.
The meeting, which saw councillor Jimmy Wilson-Petch apologise for proposing the application be granted ahead of a debate, was told livestock had died as a result of council planners’ failure to enforce its planning conditions.
She said: “Council officers, being aware of such vital evidence, should have reassured the public that mitigation measures would be implemented immediately and made sure they were.”
Neighbours John and Nora Yates told the meeting: “It can be assumed that all owners, visitors on this site, plus the owners and visitors to surrounding land, are at risk from exposure to these contaminants.”
Gordon Love, of Richmondshire Landscape Trust, added: “We have been advised than any or all of these contaminants may have spread onto our land and to the River Swale.”
He said while the council had pledged to impose planning conditions on the latest application that the contamination issues needed to be cleared up before the new lodges were built, “given the history of this matter we have no confidence that such conditions would be enforced”.
Objectors also cited concerns over a “substantial area of woodland” being removed for the building work, which they said would exacerbate water running onto their land from the site off Hurgill Road, which was already prone to flooding.
Councillor Stuart Parsons, who accused the authority of failing to enforce another planning condition that a warden should live on the site which has been beset by antisocial behaviour complaints, said the application had been shrouded in secrecy.
He said the council’s planners had repeatedly failed to answer questions about the site and should “hang their heads in shame”.
Adam Gough, of Natural Retreats, told the meeting the “high-quality self-catering tourism business” contributed £275,000 to the local economy.
He said since concerns were raised last year, an independent contractor and the Environment Agency had tested for potential contamination in water courses around the site and had found all to be clear.
Mr Gough said investigations had revealed nearby flooding was not caused by the site and that the proposed development was of a “small scale”, with less than five per cent of the 53-acre site being covered by hardstanding, track and buildings.
The majority of councillors on the Conservative-led committee said they were happy to approve the scheme on the condition the contamination and flooding issues were dealt with, if necessary, ahead of building work.
Coun Jamie Cameron said: “I am a little sad to hear so much despondency about the scheme. We want to encourage tourism. Thank goodness we have experts who look at floodwater, foul drainage and contamination. Suddenly for a night we all become an expert on it.”
The meeting heard some of the lodge owners claim they had been assured there would be no further developments on the site before buying the properties.
Coun Cameron added: “There is a definite lack of trust between the owners of the houses and natural retreats. I would assume when you are spending rather a lot of money on a property you make an absolutely watertight case with the vendor that no further development will take place.”