Joy as cabins plan for Shropshire border woodland is axed
Plans for a 68-cabin holiday park in unspoilt woodland on the Shropshire border have been shelved to the delight of campaigners.
The controversial proposals by the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays would have seen what campaigners called a "hugely destructive" development built in publicly-owned Mortimer Forest, on a site the site of Ludlow town centre.
When the scheme was first unveiled earlier this year it was met with an onslaught of opposition and led to the formation of the Save Mortimer Forest campaign group, while a petition urging Herefordshire Council to reject the application was signed by almost 5,000 people.
But an application never came, and Forest Holidays today revealed one would not be put forward.
A spokesman said: "Earlier this year we held public exhibitions outlining our proposals for Mortimer Forest. The proposals included 68 cabins and an investment of £14.5 million, which would enable the Forestry Commission to deliver long term benefits for existing forest users, wildlife and the local economy by generating a sustainable annual income.
"However, during our extensive research and consultation process we have encountered some challenging practical issues. As a result of these we are not in a position to bring forward a planning application for Mortimer Forest and will focus instead on our many other priorities."
Robert Owen, from the campaign group, said he was "delighted" the plans had been dropped.
"The whole group is very pleased to see the Forest Holidays statement," he said. "We do appreciate that they have consulted the local community quite widely.
"In terms of the bigger picture, the main thing that is going on is the Defra review and we are all waiting to hear what comes of that."
Ludlow MP Philip Dunne said: “I have supported the Save Mortimer Forest group and am pleased to see the statement by Forest Holidays that it does not intend to proceed with development in the Mortimer Forest.”
The plans would have seen the land handed over in a 125-year lease to Forest Holidays, earning the Forestry Commission an annual rent of £200,000.
As well as the cabins, the plans included car parking, play equipment, toilets and a new landscaped viewpoint at High Vinnalls.
The commission claimed the project would create 43 full-time equivalent jobs, plus another 47 for the local economy as a result of a predicted tourism boost of £2.4 million per year.
Forestry Commission spokeswoman Libby Burke said: "Forest Holidays has explained to us that they are not in a position to take forward a planning application for the cabin site at Mortimer Forest and we understand and respect their decision.
"If their planning application had been successful we had already explained to people how we wanted to make Mortimer Forest a better place for wildlife and for every visitor. Without the cabin site and the money it would have brought us, we are not in a position either to make these improvements which is a sad loss to Mortimer Forest, people who visit and the wider local economy."
Critics were not convinced of the economic projections, saying the scheme was designed to keep visitors and their money on-site, but were even more sceptical of claims the scheme would be good for wildlife. They welcomed a decision by Herefordshire Council in March that an environmental impact assessment would be required as part of any potential planning application.
Shropshire Councillor Andy Boddington, who represents Ludlow North, said: "The idea of creating limited tourist accommodation in the Mortimer Forest is not bad in principle. But it needs to be at a scale that works with the forest and is in keeping with a remote rural spot.
"Forest Holidays promised this but its promises didn’t stack up. It talked about a 'sunlit forest glade, birdsong on the breeze, absolute peace'. But at the same time it boasted hot tubs and 'sheer decadence' for its resorts.
"The narrow lanes to the site could not have coped with the traffic. The development would have been on an area that lacks biodiversity. But its huge size would have meant that it would have impacted on biodiversity throughout the Mortimer Forest."
The Mortimer Forest campaign also brought fresh criticism of the relationship between the Forestry Commission and the now majority-privately owned Forest Holidays, with a petition calling for a government review of the arrangement garnering 127,000 signatures.
A Defra review was announced in July after Ludlow MP Philip Dunne raised the issue in the Commons.
Councillor Boddington added: "The relationship between Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission must end. The House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee must hold a hearing into how a government body became so entranced by a lousy deal with a developer that has proved to be more interested in 'decadence' than the natural environment.
"We need to continue to promote the Ludlow area as a tourist destination. But this must not be at the expense of the high quality landscape that attracts visitors in the first place."