Planners in Cumbria yesterday took the first steps towards allowing a controversial pounds 100m leisure development to be built in the beautiful Eden valley. The new view from the fells would include a glass- roofed dome bathed in subdued light, peering through the tops of Whinfell forest, near Penrith.
Yesterday, Eden district council's planning committee gave its full verbal support to the plan to build a new leisure 'village' in the forest, but deferred final approval so that a binding legal agreement can be negotiated with the developers. The dilemma the authority faces is that it desperately needs to encourage companies to move into the more isolated rural areas, while protecting the environment.
The developers - Lakewoods Ltd, a joint venture by John Laing and the Granada group - want to build 700 self-catering lodges, a 70-roomed hotel complex, a water park, health club and a range of sports facilities, including tennis, squash, croquet and fishing.
The scheme is a major departure from Cumbria's main structure plan, which discourages such developments in countryside areas and designates much of the Eden valley an area of 'great landscape value'. But the council is concerned about the poor employment prospects locally and realises that the scheme will create about 520 jobs.
Objectors to the scheme, who filled the committee room yesterday, have formed a Whinfell Forest action committee to fight it, and have asked the Secretary of State for the Environment to hold a public inquiry. In addition, boxes of letters opposing the plans, many from visitors to Cumbria and including some from abroad, are piling up in the local planning office.
John Vincent, a retired headmaster and action committee member, who lives a mile from the site of the proposed complex, said the structure plan appeared to have been swept aside because of the 'great white hope' of new jobs. 'The dome would change the whole appearance of the area and alter the view from the high ridges,' he said.
But David Dorman, speaking on behalf of Lakewoods, said that the development would be completely absorbed in the forest. He said the top of the dome would initially be visible, but trees would eventually obscure the development.
But local people fear it would threaten the wildlife of the forest. It is one of the few areas where the red squirrel survives, and just happens to be perfect for the rare species of creeping ladies' tresses and the bog whortleberry.
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