Campaigners have vowed to fight on after developers were given approval for a controversial leisure village in the Warwickshire countryside.
Regeneration specialist St Modwen has been given planning permission by Stratford-on-Avon District Council to go ahead with their £100m plans for the new leisure site at Long Marston.
St Modwen wants to use what was previously earmarked for one of the government’s housing developments as what they describe as a ‘leisure hub’, featuring 150 self-catering lodges and 150 holiday homes.
But campaigners said they were disappointed at council planners for ignoring the wishes of local residents and parish councils, who oppose plans to build 500 houses on the site.
The planning committee at the council voted by seven members to six to approve the “Long Marston Masterplan”, to the surprise and anger of many protestors at the meeting.
Maurice Howse is vice-chairman of Quinton Parish Council, the closest to the proposed development site.
He said many locals were “gob-smacked” when the planning committee approved the decisions.
He said: “The residents are very angry and they are angry primarily because the officers of the council decided to recommend the district councillors to vote approval for the plan. That ran contrary to what we were led to believe would happen.
“There are 21 of the surrounding parish councils who oppose the building of 500 houses on the site, and they have reservations about the employment that is supposed to be created.
“It isn’t home and dry for them but they are well on the way.”
David Bliss, the co-ordinator of the Joint Parish Councils Working Group, representing most of the objecting parish councils, added: “What level of opposition does it take for Stratford District Council planning committee to get the message that this large new settlement is neither wanted nor needed?
“Since the council clearly won’t fight to represent the best interests of the district’s residents, we shall.
‘‘We intend to take every conceivable step to prevent the long-term ruination of this much-cherished rural area, including seeking a call-in by the Secretary of State over this perverse decision.”
John Dodds, the regional director of St Modwen, defended the scheme, and said the new leisure facilities would be a boost for local tourism.
He added: “With an existing employment hub at Long Marston, a permanent planning permission will provide certainty for the businesses currently located on site, helping to protect jobs and enabling employers to plan for their future growth.
‘‘Furthermore, the new homes planned will increase the opportunities for homebuyers in the district to get on or move up the property ladder, tapping into the pent up demand for residential properties in Stratford-upon-Avon. We will now continue to liaise with Stratford on Avon District Council as we await a decision from the Secretary of State on the masterplan – which is expected by the end of January.”
St Modwen acquired the 478-acre former MoD army base site in 2004. For a long time the site was lined up for one of the Government’s controversial eco-town developments.
Originally ten of the carbon-neutral developments were planned, drawing fury from locals at what was named the ‘Middle Quinton’ site. People living around the site set up an anti-development group and mounted a legal challenge to the scheme.
The eco-town plans were eventually scaled back to only four sites earlier this year, and St Modwen started to look for other potential uses for the Long Marston site.
Last week, in the Birmingham Post, Mr Dodds defended the new plans saying they would be vital to support employment in the region. St Modwen are backed by a number of employers in the local area.
St Modwen says the new site will safeguard hundreds of jobs. As well as the tourism accommodation and homes, the site will also feature an outdoor activity centre and caravan park, as well as football and cricket pitches and a rail heritage centre.
The firm is waiting for confirmation from the Secretary of State on whether to ‘call in’ the application for further consideration.