PLANS to redevelop a scenic site in the Moorlands have been given the go-ahead by the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC). Applicant Ben Reeves submitted the proposals for Consall Hall & Gardens, near Wetley Rocks, which include the change of use and redevelopment of Consall Hall, private house, gardens and wedding venue to form “a hospitality venue, wellbeing hotel and lodges.” The plans include 15 “low-impact, high quality holiday lodges” as well as ten 'shepherd huts' and 21 accommodation pods.
Furthermore, the existing hall is to be demolished and replaced with a new “contemporary restaurant/hub building” with refurbishments made to the existing swimming pool and spa facilities.
Consall Hall was first built in 1810 by an industrialist but has been substantially modified throughout, including since 1958 when the site was inherited by the previous owner, William Podmore OBE, who spent the next 50 years creating the gardens with lakes, follies and summer houses.
The planning application was discussed in depth and then given the go ahead at an SMDC planning committee meeting on Wednesday (December 18).
Planning officer Ben Haywood recommended that planning committee members approve the plans. He told councillors: “This proposal has come about because, following the death of Mr Podmore, the site was marketed and bought by the current applicants with a view to developing a wedding and hospitality venue.
“The conservation officer has raised no concerns regarding the loss of the Consall Hall building as it stands at the moment, given that it has been heavily altered and is essentially predominantly a 20th century development.
Mr Haywood explained that within Green Belt policy, of which the proposed site is within, some developments are deemed “appropriate” while others are not.
In this case, he explained, the replacement of Consall Hall with another building would be acceptable but the erection of the lodges and pods would not be appropriate.
In such a case, he said, the council must consider whether ‘very special circumstances’ warrant the granting of planning permission for what would otherwise be regarded as inappropriate development.
He guided the committee to The Churnet Valley Masterplan, which was adopted by SMDC in 2014 that outlines “a comprehensive framework for the future development of Churnet Valley” and “identifies opportunities to help regenerate and manage this important rural area.”
Mr Haywood stated: “The development strategy specifically makes reference to enabling developments to support and maintain the future of Consall Hall and Gardens, limited development of low impact holiday lodges up to a maximum of 15 within the gardens.”
He went on to say that the document also included “an enhanced visitor offering, improved facilities access and other suitable commercial uses of a modest scale” and that within this it specifically refers to “a wedding venue and conference facilities.”
Mr Haywood stated that he believed the proposals did, in principle, “accord with the broad scope of what was intended in the Churnet Valley masterplan, in particular enabling development to support and maintain the future of Consall Hall Gardens.”
Additionally, he explained that there had been no objections raised by the County Highways engineer – despite there being a lot of concern from local residents about potential safety issues on the roads in the area due to this development – and that “in absence of that objection it would be very difficult for us to sustain refusal on highways grounds.”
Mr Haywood concluded that he had recommended the plans for approval.
Consall Parish Council member Helen Maydew, who attended the meeting in opposition to the proposals, raised concerns about the impact this development could have on the surrounding road network.
She stated: “I speak on behalf of the residents of Consall Village. We strongly oppose this planning application.
“We feel Consall village has been missed by the applicants and the effects of their proposal will have on the village and the 19 houses and two farms.
“I know the roads can barely cope with the flow of traffic resulting in traffic difficulty.”
John Penfold, who also attended the meeting against the plans, said: “(The proposal) seeks ways to justify a business that is totally out of scale, out of keeping in one of the most beautiful areas.
“It is not what the masterplan stated as being a reasonable, modest plan to preserve the work of a respected local gentleman.
“There is nothing of benefit for the tiny host community.
“If this plan is approved it will destroy the concept of the landscape gardens.”
Appearing at the meeting in favour of the application Chris Hesketh of CTD Architects said: “It is a comprehensive and robust development proposal and one that will see the gardens restored and brought back into use.
“This is an exciting and creative vision, not only for the gardens but for Churnet Valley and the wider Staffordshire Moorlands.
“This proposal is an important opportunity and a sustainable means of conserving the means of the late Mr Podmore’s landscape garden project.”
Also supporting the proposals was Rob Duncan, who stated: “The application is a great opportunity for the Moorlands, this is an exemplar scheme and will make a significant and positive contribution to tourism and to the local economy.”
After hearing these arguments, SMDC planning committee member Councillor Peter Wilkinson said: “They’re going to have to invest a lot of money to bring this application to full development and that will mean there is going to be more intense use of the site and that will have implications off-site.
“There’s been a lot of public consultation and there’s been some modifications that were required.
“Also, within that consultation, there was: ‘to strengthen the requirements for any developments at Consall Hall Gardens to be ‘low-key – I don’t believe this is low-key or sympathetic to the area.”
Councillor Keith Flunder added: “As someone from the events industry, I think it’s very important to keep these types of sites available both for economic reasons and for public reasons as well.
“I also think they are very important for tourism.
“I think tourism is going to be something the Moorlands is going to have to rely on more and more as time goes on.
“I am not happy about the road elements of it and I have asked whether we could be an advisory on it to monitor the roads to see what happens to it over time.
“I’m very concerned if something safety-wise happens to it that we do need to be able to potentially re-visit, alter the roads and try to look at other entrances.”
Councillor Ben Emery also commented: “I was very pleased to see this coming forward because I have used Consall Gardens several times in the past for functions and admired the setting and the work achieved.
“They do need to be sustainable and this is one of the things that is going to make that happen and bring about the future prosperity of the area.”
After a lengthy deliberation, the planning committee decided to approve the application, 12 votes to one, with one abstention.
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