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Council gives green light to surf lagoon and 120-bed luxury hotel planned for Betteshanger Country Park

Controversial plans to build a surf lagoon and a 120-bed hotel at a country park have been approved despite fierce objections from campaigners.

Bosses at Betteshanger County Park can now push ahead with their multimillion-pound scheme to build an inland surf pool, known as The Seahive, alongside a luxury hotel, spa and gym.

How the 120-bed hotel is set to look. Picture: Betteshanger Country Park
How the 120-bed hotel is set to look. Picture: Betteshanger Country Park

Ever since plans were first announced, they were met with objections from those concerned about the impact the scheme could have on the park's unique wildlife.

The former colliery is home to unique lizard orchids, turtle doves and skylarks which will be displaced under the scheme.

Scores of protestors gathered outside Dover District Council offices in Whitfield last night to voice their concerns ahead of the meeting.

Those in favour of the scheme also held their own demonstration.

But councillors on the planning committee voted both applications through with seven votes in favour, two abstentions and one against giving the scheme the green light.

While bosses behind the scheme celebrated the win, Debbie Turner from Friends of Betteshanger said this is a “dark day for biodiversity”.

Ms Turner told KentOnline: “I’m bitterly disappointed, this is a dark day for biodiversity and the exceptional wildlife at the park.

Those against development at Betteshanger Country Park gathered in protest before the planning meeting
Those against development at Betteshanger Country Park gathered in protest before the planning meeting

“It is also a dark day for democracy because the planning decisions have gone against their own policies.

“From our perspective, it's not over yet.”

Detailed management plans to help mitigate the disruption to wildlife and relocate lizard orchids to other areas of the park are in place, although there is doubt over how effective they might be.

Conditions were put in place by councillors to make sure bosses are held accountable for their promise to wildlife and their management plans are seen through.

A dedicated wildlife warden will also be hired to oversee the management and protection of wildlife.

The Friends of Betteshanger group has issued a statement saying it will continue to fight against the decision.

A spokesperson said: “The decision made by the planning committee was tragic for nature, tragic for local people and tragic for the green credentials of the Labour administration on DDC who were elected in the hope that they would be different to the Conservatives.

“The applications were passed by a combination of Labour and Conservative councillors who voted the applications through and put the interest of a developer ahead of nature and local people.

“We commend those councillors who didn’t vote for the applications.

“We see many grounds for contesting the decision and we will be continuing our campaign.

“We are appealing to all local people to support our campaign to protect our park and donate to our crowdfund so we can challenge this decision”.

Walmer resident Richard Styles, 70, said: “I'm very disappointed by the decision, they twisted and turned in order to verify it.

The Seahive surf lagoon will take up 15-acres of the 231-acre park
The Seahive surf lagoon will take up 15-acres of the 231-acre park

“If lizard orchids can be transferred, and I don’t think they can, the whole thing will fall to pieces anyway.

“It is a setback and it doesn't show Dover in a very good light.

“The reason why there aren't water parks on country parks is because they should be quiet spaces for public enjoyment, they are not for people to run around, surf and have hotel on.

“There is plenty of other land they can do that with, there is no need to use this country park.

“I think Discovery Park is a perfect place for this, it is connected up with the railways, it would be ideal.“

Reacting to the news on Instagram, Kent Wildlife Trust said: “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, profit has been put before wildlife, and the plans for the hotel and surf lagoon at Betteshanger were approved with little amendment or thought about the impact on these rare species.

“This is yet another disappointing blow for nature in Kent as we continue to lose green spaces at an alarming rate.

“When will governments do what’s needed and put nature first?”

A spokesperson from countryside charity CPRE has described the decision as “baffling”.

They added: “The decision by Dover District Council’s planning committee to vote against its own Local Plan policies for designated open space in approving the surfing lagoon and hotel at Betteshanger Country Park is baffling.

“Nature and our environment have lost out badly with this decision.”

The hotel project was previously thrown out by councillors in July due to environmental concerns.

These included fears over scale and intensity, increased pollution, loss of open space and impact on the local wildlife including rare and endangered Turtle Doves.

The lagoon will be the second of its kind in England and the seventh of its kind in the world following facilities in Melbourne, South Korea, Switzerland, Brazil, Wales and Bristol.

Those in favour of The Seahive surf lagoon and hotel gathered at the Dover District Council offices ahead of the meeting
Those in favour of The Seahive surf lagoon and hotel gathered at the Dover District Council offices ahead of the meeting

The overall masterplan for the 15-acre site will feature a Wave garden Cove surf lagoon at its centre, which can create more than 20 different wave types from 50cm to 2m, providing rides of up to 15 seconds long for all ages and abilities.

The developments will join walking and cycling routes, a children’s play area, cafe and a mining museum at the park near Deal.

Designed by architects Hollaway Studio, the combined £50 million projects are part of the country park's wider plans to expand.

Ben Geering, head of planning for Betteshanger Country Park, said: “This decision is a win for nature and a win for the community.

“It honours Kent’s mining heritage by securing Betteshanger Park’s future and will boost the district’s economy.

“By supporting the applications this decision has helped us to save the park for future generations.

Debbie Turner from Deal spoke against the plans at the DDC meeting
Debbie Turner from Deal spoke against the plans at the DDC meeting

“Our vision, as it always has been, is to create a country park that provides for everyone in the community while creating hundreds of jobs and transforming Betteshanger into a world-class tourism destination – and that is what we intend to deliver.”

In total, the hotel and spa, and surf lagoon, will take up less than 10% of the 231-acre park.

Mr Geering hopes the hotel in particular will address the shortfall of accommodation locally giving a boost to the economy.

He added: “Having a high-quality hotel in the area will help the district to attract more investment to the wider area.

“The Open is a perfect example of this, however it’s about much more than time-limited events, it’s about providing a spa-hotel locally that will encourage people to visit and spend more time and money in our beautiful local towns and villages.”

Jim Storey, founder of The Seahive said the decision “marks a turning point for the future of the park” adding: “In the years that followed the closure of the former mine, the vision for this former spoil tip was for it to be used to encourage regeneration, employment, ecology, heritage, education, and community benefit.

“This will be a world-class destination which puts Kent on the global map.

“It will not just create jobs and drive inward investment but will also have a material impact on people’s physical and mental wellbeing at a point in time where it has never been more important”.

Betteshanger Country Park. Picture: Betteshanger Country Park
Betteshanger Country Park. Picture: Betteshanger Country Park

Management of the park is currently causing its owners a loss of over £1,000 per day.

Bosses say the planning decision will mean vital revenue streams can be delivered to keep the park open.

Find out about planning applications that affect you by visiting the Public Notice Portal

This includes 9.1 acres of existing farmland that will be added to the park.

This land will be used specifically to create new habitats for Turtle Doves, along with a further 15 acres of off-site land at Hammill Fields.

Nature expert Chris Packham previously branded plans for the beauty spot "catastrophic".

At the time he urges his fans to sign a petition put together by community group Friends of Betteshanger.

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