Campaigners fight Visions of China project for country park

Visions of China - picture shows Chinese Gardens
Visions of China - picture shows Chinese Gardens
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COUNTRYSIDE campaigners opposed to development in a South Yorkshire country park have attempted to throw a new obstacle in the way of a project which aims to create a Visions of China attraction.

Rother Valley Country Park, which lies on the border of the Rotherham, Sheffield and North East Derbyshire districts, has been at the centre of ambitious development proposals for several years.

In 2005, part of the park, owned by Rotherham Council, was signed over to a company which had plans for a scheme known as the YES! Project, which included a £250m hotel and leisure destination.

It was hoped that YES! would transform the former Pithouse West site, on the edge of the park, providing 2,500 jobs, but earlier this year those behind the plan announced it would not go ahead.

That left the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) celebrating, and Rotherham Council chiefs with a major problem, until the £110m Chinese theme park project was unveiled last month.

Now the CPRE has launched a new campaign opposing the Visions of China idea, saying that in its opinion the theme park is “even worse than the YES! project”.

Campaigners are also claiming that MCD Developments, the company which has drawn up the Chinese blueprint, will not have to apply for fresh outline planning permission.

They say outline permission was granted for the YES! scheme, and said MCD was planning to use that to cover the Visions of China plan because both are “leisure destinations”.

The CPRE argues this will cut the amount of consultation with local residents on the project, because just one, detailed application will be required before work can begin on the theme park, subject to councillors approving the final ideas.

The planning officer for CPRE South Yorkshire, John King, said the campaign wanted to see the developers start a fresh application process to give local people a chance to examine and have their say about the new plans.

He added: “The creation of Shaolin temples, Shanghai streets, oriental tea houses, spas and a hotel will hardly be in keeping with the character of the area, and will have a significant effect on the appearance of the country park and the wider landscape.

“From what we’ve seen of the artist’s impression, it looks as though Visions of China spreads beyond the footprint of the YES! project and includes the lakes at the bottom of the site.

“Given that this new development is so different to the YES! Project, we think that Visions of China needs to reapply for planning permission.”

Rotherham Council’s strategic director of environment and development, Karl Battersby, confirmed MCD Developments would not need new outline permission but said it could not press ahead without having a detailed application approved, which would allow for consultation with residents.

He added: “The Visions of China project will require planning permission, and will be subject to the normal planning process, and we have never stated otherwise.

“The site currently has outline planning permission which included details of siting and means of access into the site.

“Although a significant leisure scheme, the Visions of China project will be a different form of development, configured differently on the site, and as such will require planning permission in its own right.”

Mr King said the CPRE was happy to work with developers on a project for the park and added; “However you look at it, Visions of China is an original scheme. But we’re also really concerned about whether such a niche development can be sustained over the long term.

“If it is not then what would happen? We don’t want to see a white elephant in Rotherham’s green belt.

“We’re not against the country park being developed for leisure as long as it is appropriate and doesn’t spoil the landscape of the valley.”

The CPRE said it had now written to Rotherham Council, to ask officers to clarify the authority’s legal position over the outline planning permission issue.

The Visions of China project is bidding for £5.7m from the Government Regional Growth Fund, which aims to support job creation projects.

The chief executive of the Visions of China project, Peter Moore, said he “understood the CPRE’s stance” but had no comment to make.