Night of drama as council discusses lodges site
Ever since he bought a former quarry in Caistor 10 years ago, holiday park owner Bill Green has been on a journey with many twists and turns.
The long-running saga saw his plans for Wolds Retreat in Brigg Road hitting difficulties that would have broken many men.
Having sunk more than £1.5m into developing the park, but seeing a low take-up of plots sold, he looked for another way to make a return on his investment.
He was bitterly disappointed after an inspector threw out his appeal to allow residential use at the 12-acre site earlier this year.
Now he is trying again, but this time with an offer to pay for a pavement, street lighting and a minibus service to ferry occupants in and out of Caistor.
Last night, in an almost cinematic night of drama, Caistor gave him the most ringing endorsement he could have hoped for.
Mr Green was clearly stunned and emotional at the level of support he received from councillors and townspeople alike.
His battle is not won, as his bid to allow residential use still has to be approved by West Lindsey District Council, but it allowed him hope.
Nearly 30 members of the public packed Caistor’s Town Hall Arts Centre last night (Thursday, September 24, 2015), where 11 of the 14 Caistor Town Councillors were holding an extraordinary meeting about his application.
Even the councillors’ arrival had an element of drama, with many entering the room at the last moment, leaving some of the public nervous as to whether the meeting would go ahead.
Mr Green had arrived in good time with his adult son Asa and planning consultant Rachael Bartlett.
Mayor Carol Mackenzie opened the meeting by saying that she was pleased to see so many people taking an interest in the issue. She suggested the council’s “standing orders” – which govern the meeting’s procedure – be suspended temporarily to allow people to give their views.
Shona Wall was the first to speak. She had visited the site and spoken to the owner, she said. She understood that he had invested more than a million pounds in the project and at the moment he was not getting a return on his investment. it was important to encourage businesses to invest in Caistor, she said.
Michael Stockwood spoke next. “When you consider the permissions that have already been granted, I cannot see very much level of difference that this is going to make,” he said. “It is going to be an asset to the town. If people are living there permanently, a good percentage would come to Caistor to buy a paper, or visit a pub.”
Cliff Rust asked whether the current permissions allowed the lodge owners to stay at the park for 10 months of the year, or 12?
Cllr Steve Millson said the permissions were for 12 months, but at the moment the owners needed a permanent residence elsewhere.
“One of the main objections from the appeals inspector was that it would lead to over-reliance of people using their own cars,” said Mr Rust. “But what is the difference if they are on holiday for 12 months or a resident for 12 months? The owner is paying for a pavement and street lighting. This should be welcomed.”
Lodge owner Peter King said he would like to make his cabin a permanent home “because we love Caistor.”
“From what I can see, the site is residential in all but name,” said Rick Merrall. “I cannot see what difference it makes if it becomes residential.” But he said the site might change if large numbers of the cabins were privately rented out.
Another lodge owner disagreed. “There are restrictions on age and children. It is not going to happen,” said Christine Walker. She bought a lodge because it was the right price, she said. “I have been looking for somewhere to live in Caistor for years.”
“It is a good point, because Caistor is such a lovely community,” said Mayor Mackenzie.
Rob Turner, the site’s nearest neighbour, said he had a good view of the site and felt it was very well kept and the cabins were very attractive. “Another 45 bases are waiting for someone to put one on them. I think the planning restrictions are holding it back.”
Another near neighbour, Richie Chappel, said he had visited for the first time recently. “I think it is very well kept,” he said. He added that he would welcome the extended pavement as it would go past his home and he had a young child.
Richard Wish said it was interesting to hear that the neighbours liked the development. “If you have no affordable housing, it is a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I do think I would like the development to go ahead because of the quality of the build and the people coming to Caistor.” But he would like to see the lighting controlled to retain the country feeling of the area at night.
Rachael Devine told the meeting her parents had lost a lot of money because West Lindsey District Council had taken enforcement action to stop them living there. They were now in social housing in Caistor and they loved the town, she said. Her comments did not amount to support for Mr Green because she was angry that her parents had lost their life savings. However, she described the site as being “very beautiful and a fabulous place to live.”
The councillors reinstated the standing orders, which meant the public could no longer comment.
Cllr Jon Wright said he was one of several councillors who had visited the site last weekend and would support the plans for full residency. He acknowledged it was different from what was first proposed ten years ago, but “times change and things are at a standstill.” The current situation was acting as a stranglehold, he said. “I do not think it is right for us to sit on the fence about this and quote former planning applications,” he said. “It is a brownfield site. There is 100% support from neighbours. Simply going back to what happened ten years ago does not help Caistor going forward. The people will use Caistor’s amenities. The owner has had other offers but he has stuck it out.”
Cllr Michael Galligan pointed out that the town’s businesses have been suffering over the past five years. “The town council needs to be more pro-active,” he said. “The pros far outweigh the cons.”
Cllr Deborah Barker said it wasn’t the town council that had been against it, but West Lindsey District Council.
Mayor Mackenzie reminded the meeting that Caistor Town Council will not decide the outcome, but could only give its opinion.
Cllr Clive Rudd said Caistor had lost a lot of businesses recently. “It is a nice looking site,’ he said.
“Given the groundswell of support tonight, if Caistor Town Council put a strong letter forward, I think your very eloquent words will not be wasted on West Lindsey,” said Cllr Steve Millson, addressing the public.
Cllr Alan Caine, who is chairman of Caistor Town Council’s planning committee, could not be present because he was unwell, but he had forwarded some comments via Cllr Millson. He suggested a 50mph speed limit be extended out to the Wolds Retreat if residential status was granted. He had also suggested Mr Green paid for a speed indicating device to monitor traffic.
Cllr Barker said the weekend visit was the first time she had been there. “The cabins are absolutely beautiful.” She told the meeting the lodges can be ordered and sited within eight hours, and that was something that was not available anywhere else in Caistor.
Cllr Angela Clark said she had been impressed by the security measures for the site. “I’ve driven past many times but never been in,” she said. “To give credit where it is due, it was amazing.”
Cllr Steve Millson said if the 60 cabins were all occupied, there would be an 8% increase in Caistor’s population. He queried whether it would lead to pressure for local doctors.
But Cllr Barker said the Neighbourhood Plan had already allocated many more homes in Caistor, so there would be additional pressure at local surgeries regardless of what happened at the Wolds Retreat. “If we don’t have the homes there, we would have to put them somewhere else,” she said.
Cllr Galligan added, “It is a brownfield site.”
The councillors were unanimous in their support for Mr Green’s application. They were asked if a representative from Caistor Town Council would attend the West Lindsey planning meeting to present the council’s view. It was a request the councillors seemed to take on board.
After the meeting, Mr Green thanked everyone who had spoken out in support, not just at the council meeting, but also on social media.
He confirmed that he would still hold an open day at Wolds Retreat on Saturday (September 26) between 10am and 1pm to give Caistor people a chance to look around.
The open day was arranged before the extraordinary town council meeting was announced. Its original intention was to allow councillors to see the site for themselves.