Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, gave permission for the project, which includes an artificial lake, a swimming pool, shops, restaurants and a sports complex, in woodland two miles from Longleat House. A public inquiry was held in January.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England said: 'It gives a damaging signal that the Government is unwilling to stand up to the worst excesses of the tourist industry in order to protect the countryside.'
Tony Burton, the council's senior planner, said it would be the first holiday village in an area of outstanding beauty. 'We can expect new tourist controversies to spring up across the country in the wake of this decision.'
However, Peter Moore, UK managing director of the developer, Center Parcs, said 'categorically' that the company would not seek permission to build in any other such designated area.
Exceptional care would be taken to preserve and enhance the environment at Longleat, he said.
The village was being built in 400 acres of mainly conifererous plantation. Mr Moore said every deciduous tree would be preserved. 'Furthermore we will plant half a million shrubs, trees and bushes which are indigenous to the Wiltshire area.'
He also quoted the report of English Nature, which said the project would 'ecologically enhance' Longleat.
However, other environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, opposed the development.
The pounds 80m project will create 850 permanent jobs, Mr Moore said. Work will begin soon and the centre is due to open in summer 1994. Center Parcs, a subsidiary of the brewer Scottish & Newcastle, already operates villages in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, and Elveden Forest, near Cambridge. Together they have attracted 500,000 visitors in the last 12 months.
It is seeking two more sites for similar developments, probably in the North and Midlands.Reuse content