Hundreds object to plans for Ellel holiday village they say would be 'major intrusion in the countryside' and 'vandalism of the highest order'
Ambitious plans for a new £50m holiday village to the south of Lancaster would be detrimental to the area and have a hugely negative impact on retreats held at the nearby ministry, residents have said.
Hundreds of people - from across the country as well as locals - have written to Lancaster City Council to make their feelings known on plans for Ellel Holiday Village.
It was revealed last week how Lancaster-based M Capital Properties Limited want to build a development which they say would support new business, get kids back to nature and drive biodiversity.
The developers said the scheme would be one of the most eco-friendly holiday parks ever built in the UK, and would include a 90-bedroom hotel designed to sit within the landscape, complete with a grass roof and 450 lodges set within both mature and new woodland, alongside canals and wetland walkways.
It would also include a combination of visitor attractions ranging from an artisan marketplace to an immersive wildlife centre.
The initiative would be built on land once part of the famous Ellel Grange estate, the former home of the Sandeman family.
Stephanie Bruntlett said many villagers in Forton share concerns about the development, particularly since architects Stride Treglown have confirmed in their environmental statement on behalf of the developers that the firm originally applied for permission to build 695 houses on the site - which was refused.
"There is some anxiety locally that the current outline application for 450 holiday lodges, a 100-room hotel, shops and restaurants may, if granted, possibly morph into housing on some scale should the holiday village plan prove not to be viable," Mrs Bruntlett said.
"Their own environmental statement tells us about their initial desire for housing, and in fact when the first application was rejected by Lancaster City Council, they asked if the land could be set aside for future consideration. This, too, was rejected.
"I believe that the possibility still exists that the developer may seek to add housing to the site by way of a 'back door' should they receive permission for the leisure village in outline, and it’s imperative that this be prevented.
"The vision and ambition of the developer as regards Ellel Holiday Village is admirable. There could be local jobs created, after all. But without a business plan, and with the company's original desire for housing, we just wonder if this is a viable concern.
"And the parkland of Ellel, with the canal running through it - a favourite country walk locally - is bio-diverse as it is, and really doesn't require being ripped up to make it artificially eco-friendly."
Mrs Bruntlett added concerns about traffic and noise pollution, and also said that the development - which intends for visitors to stay on site - would be of little or no benefit to the local economy, and may even compete with and undermine it.
Oliver Westall, also from Forton, said concerns are also growing in the village about the increasing urbanisation of the land between Lancaster and Forton.
Many concerns have been raised about the impact the development would have on the local area, including several from official bodies.
Lancaster Civic Society said the proposal is not covered by the recently adopted Local Plan and that its impact on the village of Galgate needs to be assessed.
"That community is threatened to the north by the advancing Bailrigg Garden Village post-2031 and now by this large development to the south," they said.
"Much greater local community consultation needs to be carried out. We believe that the proposals under consideration are over-ambitious and give rise to some significant reservations."
Forton Parish Council has also objected to the scheme, saying it is a "major intrusion in the countryside" and it does not seem to be on land designated for development in the Lancaster District Local, Plan.
They also said a new tourist development with new build accommodation needs to be supported by a business plan demonstrating long term viability, which has not been provided.
In addition, the councillors had concerns about an increase in traffic the development would bring.
The Environment Agency have also opposed the scheme, which they say falls within a flood risk vulnerability category that is inappropriate to the flood zone in which the application site is located.
In their objection, they say the application is contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and its associated planning practice guidance.
Dynamo cycle campaign group have said that the absence of any transport overview was "disturbing".
"This is a major development (potentially more than 1,000 people on site at any one time) adjacent to another major development (Bailrigg Garden Village) at a time when the Transforming Lancaster Travel scheme is under way," they said. "Therefore the thought of permitting anything to go ahead without assessing the impact on the transport infrastructure is frightening.
"More cars - and this is the only option the application proposes - equals more dangers and deterrents to active travel. Also concerning is the fact that this development is outside the scope of the Local Plan."
Richard Broadhead, inspector of historic buildings and areas for Historic England, said their assessment showed that there are a number of heritage assets associated with the Ellel Grange estate and Lancaster Canal located within or close to the site, the significance of which the development may impact.
And Lancaster City Council's own conservation team have said in their representations that the development would result in "a high level of harm to the sensitive and attractive designed setting to Ellel Grange and to a most scenic section of the Lancaster Canal".
"We are unconvinced that this harm is justified, especially as the form of the development, if acceptable in principle, could be provided on many other less sensitive sites in the district," they added.
"There are no apparent public benefits to the identified heritage assets."
The development would be built next to Ellel Grange, which has offered healing retreats for the last 35 years.
Hundreds have stated their objections to the city council on the grounds that a large-scale holiday village would massively impact on the site.
Chris Baxter, who lives in Galgate, has been the grounds manager at Ellel Grange for 24 years.
In his written objection to the city council, he said: "You might think [the developers] plan to build on a forgotten bit of farmland that can't be seen from anywhere. It's not. It's a designed landscape. More specifically it's a landscape designed to be viewed from Ellel Grange.
"But it isn't just the designed landscape that would be ruined by this proposal. In the very heart of the site runs the Lancaster Canal - perhaps the area's best heritage asset.
"An acceptable proposal would explain in detail how the proposal would enhance the heritage value of the canal. This one doesn't.
"It is just a money-making scheme. It has no purpose other than that."
Mr Baxter added that of the 960 comments submitted to Lancaster City Council, more than 800 are personal objections, while around 70 are from the developer or consultees and fewer than 60 are in support of the scheme.
Numerous people who have visited the retreats say the proposals would cause severe disruption to Ellel Grange.
"The proposed plans to 'take over the grounds' would ruin the whole ethos of what Ellel Ministries are trying to do," one said.
"This would destroy the natural beauty of this place," said another.
"It would cause major disruption to the peace and tranquility of Ellel Grange and would have a negative impact on many lives," a third objector wrote.
And another objected to the scheme by saying: "Ellel Grange and the surrounding area is a place of peace and tranquillity. Ellel Grange offers retreats which people attend from all over the world - the grounds and surrounding countryside play a major part in what nature offers towards the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing that is sought and attained whilst there.
"The local area would not be able support the infrastructure required for the planned building. It would have a major negative impact on the infrastructure, the local community, the surrounding area and Ellel Grange."
Concerns have also been raised about the negative effect the plans would have on traffic as well as increased flooding fears.
One objector said: "This proposed development will greatly spoil such a beautiful area and interfere significantly with those who are involved working at Ellel Grange.
"The A6 is already a very busy road, especially at peak times, and the increased volume of traffic if this proposed plan for 450 lodges,a hotel and retail outlets was to go ahead would have a detrimental impact on the road and upon the people who live in the immediate locality thereby increasing the risk of accidents and fatalities.
"There is far too much green space being developed into projects that are not only very costly to establish but are frankly totally unecessary."
Peter Horrobin, chairman of trustees at The Christian Trust, who own Ellel Grange, said: "The proposals completely ignore the needs of the vital work being done by The Christian Trust at Ellel Grange and ride roughshod over the necessity for this property to remain in a quiet and peaceful environment, which has already served the needs of tens of thousands of people and given birth to over 50 Ellel Healing Centres around the world.
"The proposals disrespect the conservation of the outstanding heritage assets which are contained within the Ellel Grange estate.
"Contrary to the protestations of the applicants that this will be a place of eco-enjoyment, the impact of over 2,000 people a week staying in the lodges on such a condensed space would be destructive of the very environment they are seeking to conserve."
Mr Horrobin also said the applicants do not have authority to use any of the Ellel Grange driveway, and have made no representations for such use to the trustees before submitting their application to the council, and added that the "huge extra traffic volumes" caused by the development would create "a major traffic and accident hazard" at the Hampson Green roundabout and at the entrance to the Ellel Grange drive.
Roger Pook, a trustee of the charity which owns Ellel Grange, believes the proposed development would "seriously harm the work of the charity by depriving our guests of the quiet and privacy which they expect and need".
"I am also very concerned about the safety aspect of the plans, which promote the Ellel Grange driveway as a main access route for walkers and cyclists “with no cars”, when there can be 30 or 40 traffic movements a day along this drive," he said.
Mr Pook said he is "quite at a loss" to understand how the development could be described as 'eco-friendly' and 're-wilding with biodiversity'.
"It would effectively destroy some of the finest agricultural parkland in the area, not to mention ruining the peace and beauty of the Lancaster Canal," he said.
"Housing projects, together with concrete and asphalt, do not absorb carbon dioxide, and are not 'natural, wild and dynamic'."
Mr Pook added that surrounding Ellel Grange with such a development would be "vandalism of the highest order" and said that the financial benefits for Lancaster were also doubtful.
A spokesperson from Ellel Holiday Village said: "Up to this point, public responses towards the development of Ellel Holiday Village have been incredibly positive and we've had over 80 letters of support.
"We're also proud to have the support of the Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Lancashire and Lancaster and Morecambe College, who all see the positive benefits of this project moving forward.
"Ellel Holiday Village is set to be the one of the most eco-friendly holiday parks ever built in the UK, and we are committed to protecting and cultivating wildlife as part of the plans through building new micro communities and forming new habitats in which wildlife can be encouraged to thrive.
"We are also aware that less than one per cent of the recent objections made towards this project progressing come from residents of the local area. The overwhelming majority of objections have been made by those overseas who are not aware of the positive attributes of what we are looking to achieve.
"We are also in open talks with Eden North, and Lancaster University. We see great benefits in being able to offer visitors to Eden a quality affordable place to stay at scale and for them to spend extra time in the wonderful Lancaster and Morecambe area, as opposed to simply being day trippers.
"As part of the development, we are looking to include a combination of unique visitor attractions ranging from an artisan marketplace to an immersive wildlife centre.
"We see huge benefits in creating the market place, a unique environment where budding entrepreneurs can get a foot on the ladder both in terms of our unique approach to rent, our business mentorship program, and our cooperative website and everything commerce solution.
"We are firm believers that investing time and money into local business will ensure a sustainable future."
The plans are expected to go before the city council in August.