Locals force disclosure of Tatton Park plans
Residents in Knutsford are fighting a proposal by Cheshire East Council to provide £6.5m for a private developer to build a 125-acre children's play area in the 1,000-acre deer park.
The local authority was told by the Information Commission to reveal the details of the proposed financial deal with Bure Valley Adventures, a visitor attraction developer, following a Freedom of Information request by a resident.
The published cabinet report said the council intended to spend £1.5m of its own resources to prepare the site, to be repaid through park entry charges over 20 years. In addition, the council would lend £5m to Bure Valley to build BeWILDerwood, repayable over 12 years. The council said the new attraction would generate net returns of £300,000 to £400,000 a year to the authority during the loan repayment period, rising to between £600,000 and £700,000 a year after repayment of the loan.
The planning application is currently being revised after BeWILDerwood was told by council planners last year its original proposal was likely to be refused due to the loss of ancient woodland at the park.
Bure Valley describes BeWILDerwood as a "curious treehouse adventure". Its first park opened in Hoveton, Norfolk in May 2007. It promises to "enhance the natural playground of Tatton Park and encourage children, together with their families to enjoy traditional, imaginative and healthy outdoor play".
A statement from local campaigners, Save Tatton Action Group, said: "The report confirms much of what we have been saying regarding the millions Cheshire East is planning to borrow to lend to a Norfolk business to build the theme park.
"It also raises very worrying questions as to the financial sustainability of BeWILDerwood over a 20-year period. We, the Cheshire East Council tax payers appear to be taking all the risk on a project which the business behind the concept can't even begin to fund itself.
"We'd also like to thank the Knutsford resident who pursued the Freedom of Information request and made the appeal to the Information Commissioner which led to Cheshire East being ordered to make public the report."
In response, Cheshire East said the "concept of a new visitor attraction at Tatton Park is a key element of the 'Tatton Vision' – which is already being brought to life through other investment in areas such as the stableyard project and Tattondale Farm.
"This vision aims to create a self-sustaining Tatton Park which offers an enhanced visitor experience for both local people and visitors from further afield for many years to come."
Cllr Jamie Macrae, Cabinet member with responsibility for prosperity and economic regeneration, said: "Tatton Park is currently one of the region's premier visitor destinations, welcoming over 800,000 people each year.
"The Vision will build on the investment being made in Tatton and the commitment of the Council to secure the estate and its proud heritage for future generations.
"We are choosing to move forward with the BeWILDerwood attraction as we feel it would be sympathetic to the park's natural woodland environment. Additionally, we are confident it will attract new family groups to Tatton, create new jobs and open up a part of the estate that was previously inaccessible to the public.
"There is a range of groups in the local community that want to secure the future of Tatton. Now is the time for all of us with an interest in its future to work together to achieve this.
"The current planning application will shortly be resubmitted and I would encourage people to engage with us during the consultation period to let us know their thoughts."
- The full cabinet report can be viewed on Cheshire East Council's website here