HorseWorld's bid to build 125 houses - and a very big visitor centre - on green belt land at Whitchurch village was roundly rejected by BaNES development Control Committee today.
The ailing charity had claimed that it must have the revenue from selling off its current visitor centre for housing if it was to survive. It's Big Idea was to use the development cash to build a bigger better visitor centre. With similar amenities as the old centre, but a bigger shop and and a bigger cafe and (wait for it) a new 250-seater Indoor Arena, it could up the visitor numbers by a third, and get them to stay longer, while paying more per admission, and spending more in the shop and in the cafe. Problem solved.
The BaNES councillors weren't persuaded. The business plan didn't convince them. They didn't like being told that only 10% of the houses could be 'affordable'. The traffic figures suggested much more congestion in an already congested area. The schools didn't have the capacity. An hourly bus diverted to pass the site (except evenings and Sundays) wouldn't make anyone abandon their cars. And the new visitor centre would be a blot on the landscape. All in all, there were no 'very special circumstances' that might make it ok to permanently build over the Green Belt.
The scheme's not dead though. BaNES themselves are looking at releasing local Green Belt for development to meet their housing targets. A proposal's just been floated to release a chunk of HorseWorld land and neighbouring fields for 200 homes. If that's agreed in the Core Strategy, HorseWorld will be back. And if BaNES nominate other space for new homes, the developers will be queueing.
Hoofnote: 1st Dec.
A curious feature of HorseWorld's application to build 125 houses on the greenbelt with a minimum of 'affordable' dwellings among them was the announcement to the BaNES planning committee that Bristol had withdrawn its objection.
Not so. It's true that Bristol's LibDem leader Tim Kent had been lobbied beforehand by HorseWorld chief Mark Owen, who told him that without the planning permission the ailing charity would go belly up. And it's true that Tim, in turn, had lobbied the other south Bristol councilors asking for their support in getting the Bristol objection withdrawn. And it's true that Bristol did put in a surprise 11th hour 'comment' to BaNES about the application.
But it didn't withdraw the objection. The secretive attempt by Tim (and any henchpersons who might have been equally worried that they might be portrayed as 'cruel to horses') to overturn the case made by their own officers didn't withdraw anything, even though the BaNES officers tried to make it look that way.