Eden Project co-founder Sir Tim Smit refused planning permission for divisive project

Cornwall councilors have refused planning permission for Sir Tim Smit’s latest venture saying that it would cause harm to the landscape and historic assets. A planning application for Gillyflower Farm went before the council’s strategic planning committee when it met this morning.

Ahead of the meeting protesters gathered at New County Hall in Truro singing songs and waving placards to show their objection to the plans. More than 300 people had submitted objections to the application on the council’s website.

Under the plans Sir Tim, and his son Alex, wanted to create a horticulture, agronomy and cookery education center along with 19 holiday lodges, a cafe and facilities and a new reception for the golf club on the site on the outskirts of Lostwithiel.

Read more: Gillyflower Farm plans described as made of ‘smoke and fairy dust’

Council planning officers had recommended that the plans should be approved saying that while there would be some harm to the Area of ​​Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and heritage assets they considered that the economic benefits of the scheme outweighed the harm.

However, Lostwithiel Town Council and local Cornwall councilor Colin Martin had objected with concerns about the impact of the development as well as highways concerns and the effect it could have on the town.

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Planning officers explained to the committee that the plans had gone through several changes since they were first revealed including lowering the height of the main hub building which would have the meeting areas, cafe and shop facilities.

Lostwithiel town councilor Phil Wisdom explained why the council had objected to the application and raised doubt about the educational aspects of the development. He said: “There is no classroom, no land for horticulture, not even so much as a greenhouse.”

He said that the proposed jobs would be “low skilled” and said “the benefits are speculative, the harms are real”.

Cllr Wisdom said that the application went against the Lostwithiel Neighborhood Development Plan and said that while it was the nature of planning that policies could be contradictory he said it was important to weigh up the balance of harm against benefits.

And he said that the claim that the development would benefit the town center was “in my mind no more than an out of town shopping center would help a town”.

Sir Tim addressed the committee and said it was “a matter of regret” that the application had divided opinions in Lostwithiel. But he said that he and his son were sure that the development would be sustainable and help not just the local community but also benefit the wider population in learning and developing learning about horticulture and agronomy.

He said that they were working with a number of educational institutions including Exeter and Plymouth universities to set up training and research programs which would run from the farm.

And he said that the golf club and holiday lodges would help to generate income which would help to fund the educational aspects of the new venture.

Cllr Colin Martin said he was concerned about the impact of additional traffic on Cott Road accessing the new development and he was very concerned about the impact on the AGLV and historic assets in the area including Restormel Castle.

Councilors said they were disappointed by the lack of consultation by the applicants with the local community about the development proposals before they were submitted. There was also concern that an Economic Impact Assessment had also not been carried out for the planned development.

Should the plans for Gillyflower Farm have been approved or was the planning committee right to decide that the harms outweighed the benefits? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Committee member Andrew Long proposed that the application should be refused due to the harm it would have on the character of the AGLV and the heritage assets in the area.

He said: “The onus has been on the applicant to prove that the adverse impact is outweighed by the benefits. I can’t see that they have done that, to my mind, they have not done that for me.

“They had an opportunity to do that, they had an opportunity to provide an economic impact assessment, but they have not done so. I am incredibly disappointed that there was no consultation until the application was in.”

Cllr Long said that even during lockdown there had been consultation events held about various developments, with some taking place online to fit in with guidelines and ensure people could have their say.

He added: “To my mind the reason I will recommend refusal is I think the adverse impact on the character of the AGLV and the harm to the historical monuments and Restormel Castle is higher than the officer has given balance to. The economic benefit and community benefit is less.”

Cllr Long also said that the application did not comply with a number of policies in local and national planning guidelines as well as the Lostwithiel Neighborhood Plan.

Several committee members – including Louis Gardner, John Fitter and Dulcie Tudor – spoke in support of the application. Cllr Tudor said: “I see this as an exciting project that will move things forward.”

However, Cllr Long’s proposal to refuse planning permission, seconded by Rob Nolan, was passed with seven votes in favor and four against. The applicants do have the right to appeal against the decision.

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