Councillors turn down Wealden camp site’s bid to secure permanent planning permission

Councillors have turned down a camp site’s bid to secure permanent planning permission
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On Thursday (March 28), Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee North considered an application connected to an 80-pitch camping site on the shores of the Bewl Water Reservoir near Wadhurst.

The application had been seeking to make permanent a temporary planning permission — granted in November 2020 — under which the campsite has been operating for the past three years.

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While recommended for approval, the application had seen significant objections due to concerns about the impact of camping on the High Weald National Landscape, the character of Bewl Water and local wildlife. These objections have been led by a group of parish councils, fronted by Wadhurst Parish Council.

Bewl Camp SiteBewl Camp Site
Bewl Camp Site

Their concerns were summed up by ward councillor Johanna Howell (Con), who said: “If this goes ahead we will be bringing a Center Parcs-type development to Sussex.

“We are told we will benefit from tourism; no we won’t. That will go to Kent. When discussing the Ashdown Forest we do not say we need a Center Parcs so people can enjoy it, we say we don’t need the pressure on nature and habitat.

“This will be corporate business winning over nature.”

Cllr Howell’s concerns were shared by most committee members, with several arguing the retention of the campsite would harm the area.

Not everyone on the committee shared this view.

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Cllr Gareth Owen-Williams (Lib Dem) said: “We’ve had three years of this temporary situation and very little problems that have been notified. If people [weren’t] complaining they can’t complain now that their complaints weren’t listened to. So I am not hearing that it has caused problems.

“When we have refused [previous applications at Bewl Water], the inspector came back and said ‘that’s ridiculous, I’m not upholding that’. It does seem to me to be the same arguments, which to me don’t hold water.

“In this day and age families are struggling. I think if there is cheap accommodation, which enables ordinary people to have access the beautiful natural environment we are lucky enough to have. I don’t see a problem with that as long as it is not causing a problem.”

While some councillors shared Cllr Owen-Williams’ views, the committee as a whole ultimately opted to refuse planning permission on the grounds it would harm the High Weald National Landscape and have an impact on local ecology. Officers had warned against this decision.

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During the same meeting, councillors also refused an application seeking permission to both erect four yurts (two of which are already in-situ) and to retain a portacabin containing toilet and wash facilities at Bewl Water.

The refusal will not prevent the site being used for camping outright, as, under planning law, land can temporarily be used for camping for up to 28 days each year without planning permission. This is how the site was operated before securing the temporary planning permission in November 2020.

The temporary permission allowed the site to operate between May and September each year. The application would have seen this period of operation extended to between April and September.

For further information see application reference WD/2023/1895/MAJ on the Wealden District Council website.