A protest group formed by Cheshire residents is calling for financial disclosure over a deal between Cheshire East Council and Bure Valley Adventures to pay for the proposed 125-acre children's play area in Tatton Park.
Save Tatton Action Group claims the local authority is providing the capital funding for the £6.5m Bewilderwood theme park in Tatton Park.
Bure Valley Adventures, which opened its first Bewilderwood in Norfolk in 2007, submitted plans to Cheshire East in April, seeking permission to use 125 acres of Tatton Park land 'for outdoor adventure attraction, including car park and associated infrastructure'.
Cheshire East finances and maintains Tatton Park, which is owned by the National Trust and is one of the UK's most complete historic estates, with a Tudor Old Hall, Neo-Classical Mansion, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, a rare-breed farm and 1,000 acres of deer park.
STAG spokesman Heather Clawson, a Mobberley resident, said: "Members and supporters have only recently become aware of the sheer scale of the proposal and the effect it would have on the park and the surrounding area.
"Back in February the developers held a one day public consultation at a hotel, and a two-week exhibition in Tatton Park's restaurant, but these were very low key.
"We have now found that the cost of building the development is £6.5m and we want to know who is paying for this."
The planning application states that "BeWILDerwood…. is likely to contribute £300,000 per year income to Tatton Park over and above the repayment of the £6.5m needed to finance the project."
A spokesman for Cheshire East Council said in a statement: "Cheshire East Council is working with Bure Valley to deliver the BeWILDerwood project. As is the case with many other partners across Cheshire East, commercial terms and details remain confidential."
Clawson added: "Cheshire residents want to know what is going on. Is our Council tax and business rates going to fund this development? How can Cheshire East, the planning authority, be promoting the scheme when they are also deciding the planning permission? Why are Tatton Park employees, who are paid by the residents and businesses of Cheshire East, having meetings and sending emails in support of the scheme?
"However, you look at this, there is a serious conflict of interest. What happens if BeWILDerwood is a flop? Who will be responsible for paying off the loan?"
Cheshire East Council has now extended the consultation period from 17 May to 8 June.
Bure Valley describes BeWILDerwood as a 'curious treehouse adventure'. Its first park opened in Hoveton, Norfolk in May 2007. It hopes to open in Tatton Park, for the summer of 2014. 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'.
STAG has made objections to the application on various grounds; ecology, visitor numbers, noise, archaeology and cultural heritage, transport, inappropriate development in green belt, air quality, and loss of farmland.
In response, Simon Egan, project development director of Bewilderwood, said: "The landscape and the trees are our asset, a wild woodland environment is not only in the heart of our name but is key to the whole experience of BeWILDerwood – the proposal includes an ecological construction management plan, conservation management plan, parkland restoration, creation and restoration of ponds, creation of bat and bird habitats, which will only improve the condition of the woodland and overall ecology in the long term. Tree surveys have been taken prior to designing the layout to ensure minimal impact on trees.
"Our family adventure would include daily story telling for children, climbing bridges, tree houses, wobbly wires and peaceful pathways, in addition to plenty of open space, giving visitors a chance to play together and engage with the natural environment in a completely new, yet traditional way. The proposed site is well away from existing park activity and 2km from Tatton House and garden.
"The Highways Agency has already confirmed they have no concerns over the potential impact of the BeWILDerwood project on the major roads / motorway network. More locally, we understand some resident concerns about traffic generation; the majority of visitors will access the park through the main Rostherne entrance. Additional traffic count surveys are due to be undertaken during this consultation period, in order to complete the capacity analyses within Knutsford and produce a report on the impacts of the relatively small proportion of BeWILDerwood visitors that will use this junction. Regarding the issue of parking in and around Knutsford, we don't believe we will be adding to this issue, as families with children between 3 and 12 will have little interest in walking the distance to the BeWILDerwood entrance. All traffic will be subject to traffic management."
Egan continued: "This is a world we hope to create for families and groups to get away from the whirr of play stations and TV's and return to traditional, healthy, and natural outdoor play. We have a wonderful education package in place that is embraced widely by schools in our Norfolk location, encouraging learning through literacy, underpinned and inspired by Tom's unique range of storybooks. Over and above the localised noise of children playing and having fun, there will be little other noise, with no park-wide amplified music or tannoy system, no mechanical rollercoaster type rides and only minor amplification for the story telling area. In our Norfolk location we have a boat, however our proposal for Tatton instead includes an LPG Locomotive, designed to be as quiet as possible; the engine bay is fully sound proofed and fitted with a quality exhaust system. The power to the drive wheels is through a hydraulic motor, which allows the engine to operate at very low revs."