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Owners bid to open idyllic leisure site to charities thwarted by planners

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They are 12 of the most peaceful, idyllic acres in the Fens boasting a reservoir, clay pigeon shooting, scuba diving, swimming, archery, woodland, air rifle shooting, dog walking and occasional camping.

There is also a beach hut, used for “general relaxation of views of the land and pond”.

And if that hasn’t tempted you, a “tranquillity hut provides an area for quiet contemplation and mindfulness”.

There is also a single storey bird hide providing an area to view the wildlife on the reservoir and surrounding area.

The site is currently used by a small group of family members who own it but they felt it was time to share the amenities with others.

There is also a single storey bird hide providing an area to view the wildlife on the reservoir and surrounding area.

There is also a single storey bird hide providing an area to view the wildlife on the reservoir and surrounding area.

Their plan, outlined to a planning inspector, excluded any commercial use but there were some people they felt could benefit from a spell in the outdoors.

These, the inspector was told, were those such as “such as charities and local groups by allowing them limited use of the land for fishing and camping for example”.

But the inspector was unmoved and refused to lift the condition for its use, maintaining it for family use only.

The site at Engine Bank, Mepal near Chatteris was bought from the former Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

It was part of the old Rickwood Centre, and permission was given in 2021 by East Cambridgeshire District Council for use as an outdoor leisure and recreation space but restricted to the applicants “and a small number of friends and family”.

Mostly it’s used by two to four people, on occasions up to 20.

“It is not open for use by the public and is not used commercially to generate any income for the applicant,” East Cambs planners were told when approval was given.

“The site is used by the applicant for dog walking, exercise, BBQs, swimming, boating, clay pigeon shooting, archery, and occasional camping (using the applicant’s own tents or a campervan/caravan).

“The reservoir is used for fishing, swimming, scuba diving and boating, and the existing shooting range is used for archery and air rifle shooting.”

The owners who won approval for its use, wanted to change things, and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate to have some of the conditions removed.

He said one condition which the applicants wanted to change was that planning permission “shall be for personal use of the applicants”.

The inspector E Worley said another condition prohibited external lights and another that the site should not be used for the shooting of animals.

He dismissed the appeal.

Mr Worley said: “The proposal before me is to remove all 3 of the disputed conditions, which the appellants consider not to be necessary.

“The main issues are whether the conditions are reasonable and necessary in the interests of highway safety; the living conditions of the occupiers of neighbouring properties, having regard to noise and disturbance; and biodiversity.”

The inspector said at the appeal the applicants had indicated that while there is no intention to use the land for commercial purposes, they wish to enable others to enjoy the benefits of the site, such as charities and local groups by allowing them limited use of the land for fishing and camping for example.

“I observed at my visit that vehicular access to the site from Engine Bank is via a single-track driveway with limited opportunities for vehicles to pass” he said.

“Crooked Drain, a wide ditch, runs parallel with it on one side and agricultural land adjoins the other side.

“The appeal submissions indicate that the track is currently used by dog walkers and agricultural vehicles and that in light of the volume and intermittent traffic flow the existing passing places are rarely needed.

“It is suggested that the removal of the condition would not materially alter the current situation and would therefore not pose an increased risk to highway safety.

“However, whilst the road may currently be lightly trafficked, an unfettered permission would potentially allow the site to be used more intensively and in an uncontrolled manner.

“With an unknown number of vehicular movements and potential conflict between passing vehicles, this may harm highway safety”.

Mr Worley also addressed a suggestion that a condition to allow 12 events during a 12-month period where they could invite non family and friends to use the property would be a reasonable compromise.

“However, there is insufficient information before me to demonstrate that such events would not attract a level of trips that would cause conflict between all users of the highway,” he concluded.

“Planning permission was granted on the basis that the level of activity in association with the use of the land would not harm the living conditions of the neighbouring properties.

“Whilst the council’s environmental health team concluded noise impacts may not be significant, there is no substantive evidence before me which sets out details of the types and scale of activities other uses by different groups may involve.

“Consequently, I cannot be definitive as to the effects in terms of this aspect and as such the removal of the condition in the absence of these details would cause harm to the living conditions of the occupiers of neighbouring properties in terms of the level and types of activities taking place.”

 

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