Watchdog takes park chiefs to court over £60m tourist village

A A A

A national park authority's decision to allow part of a tourism "village" to be built on its land has provoked an unprecedented legal battle with its own watchdog.

A national park authority's decision to allow part of a tourism "village" to be built on its land has provoked an unprecedented legal battle with its own watchdog.

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority went against the advice of its officials to grant planning permission for the £60m private development.

In the first legal action against a park authority since it was created in 1936, the Council for National Parks is seeking a judicial review of the decision in the High Court. The council had warned the authority that the development could cause "serious harm" and set an "unwelcome precedent" and is concerned about the manner in which the decision was taken.

The outcome of the dispute could determine future policy for other parks, which are under pressure to market themselves as tourist destinations as well as provide jobs for local people in rural areas where there are few job opportunities. The dispute concerns plans for the 500-acre Bluestone tourism village near Narberth, which straddles the park boundary close to the Milford Haven waterways. The affected section of the park is mainly cornfields and woodland.

The private development has been granted £16.5m by the Welsh Assembly, and could create about 600 jobs in an employment blackspot.

Ruth Chambers, head of policy at the council, a charity, said yesterday that a judicial review was an "exceptional" step, "taken because of serious legal concerns about the authority's disregard for its own policies and the way in which the decision was made". She said the decision was taken as a last resort and with a "heavy heart", but added: "We think that the park authority's judgement is seriously flawed and are prepared to challenge this in court."

Pembrokeshire County Council had already given permission for those parts of the development, a water world and snow centre, which lie outside the park by the time a decision on the remainder - 340 timber lodges and the village centre which lie within the park - came before the authority. The body consists of 10 county councillors and five Welsh Assembly members.

Despite being warned by its officials that giving permission for the "village" was against existing policy prohibiting such developments and it would be detrimental on environmental grounds, the go-ahead was given in December last year. Since the decision overturned previous policy, the authority was legally obliged to reconsider it in January - which it did with the same result.

The Welsh Assembly, which has powers to either determine the issue itself or order a planning inquiry, declined to intervene, saying it was a local matter.

William McNamara, chief executive of Bluestone, said yesterday that the project would affect two cornfields "right on the edge of the park boundary" and was not overlooked by any dwelling. He said an "enormously complex" management plan would deal with all the ecological issues. He told BBC Wales: "There are no public rights of way. Ecologically it is a very poor area. The reality is that this proposal has been democratically voted in. What they are challenging is the fact they don't like the decision."

Bluestone later pointed out that the application had been "meticulously" scrutinised at every stage by two appointed planning authorities, which both approved the development, and had been independently examined by the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and Cadw, the Welsh Assembly's environment agency, without objection.

John Evans, a spokesman for the park authority, said it would be seeking legal advice: "At this stage it is too early for the authority to provide a response.''

Maurice Hughes, leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, said the announcement was "very disappointing".

He added: "This development has suffered enough delays already. What is even more galling is that the Council for National Parks is not accountable to anyone and its members are not elected - unlike the county council. It is estimated that Bluestone will plough over £30m a year back into the Pembrokeshire economy and without doubt the majority of people who live in the county want this scheme to go ahead."

The 225 square-mile national park includes spectacular coastal scenery and the tiny city of St David's, which is dominated by a 12th-century cathedral.It is one of 11 national parks in Britain, most of which were given protected status by the Government in the 1950s and 1960s.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before