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Tunbridge Wells Borough Council turns down Father Christmas World planning application

The firm behind a doomed Christmas attraction has promised to pay back all ticket money - after it was refused permission to open.

Father Christmas World has had its planning permission refused by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council - despite it having already sold tickets to potential guests.

The debate held in council chambers yesterday - which was expected to take several hours - took just 90 minutes with planning chiefs unanimously voting for the application be refused.

New plans for Father Christmas World were due to be submitted to the council. Stock picture
New plans for Father Christmas World were due to be submitted to the council. Stock picture

The decision follows weeks of deliberation about whether the festive attraction should be given the go-ahead.

The company behind the attraction, Markerstudy Leisure, has now said it will be refunding all tickets purchased.

A spokesperson said: "Due to a recent planning decision taken by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, we have been forced to change our plans for Father Christmas World in 2014.

"Full refunds will be promptly given to all those who have purchased tickets.The whole situation is under review and further announcements will be made in due course."

Nearly 100 members of the public arrived at the meeting in the town hall and listened as speakers addressed the planning chiefs.

Following the decision, planning committee chairman Cllr Mrs Julia Soyke said: "The planning committee decided unanimously to refuse this application and I can understand that this was a very disappointing decision for the supporters of Father Christmas World and Markerstudy.

"The application they presented had some very exciting elements and the council is much in favour of enterprises that would bring visitors and spending to the borough but the committee has to make its decisions purely on planning grounds."

The meeting was held at the council chambers in the Town Hall
The meeting was held at the council chambers in the Town Hall

When tickets for the venue went on sale nearly two weeks ago, prices were revealed as £65 for a ticket - even for a child.

Dozens of potential guests took to social media to express their anger. 

Markerstudy Leisure, the company behind Father Christmas World - planned to be built on the Salomons Estate - said it would refund all tickets purchased if the application was refused.

The reasons given by planning chiefs for the recommendation of refusal were: 

  • It will significantly impact the road network in the area
  • The site is not accessible by anything other than a private car
  • Construction would not 'conserve and enhance' the High Weald Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty
  • It would compromise inappropriate development in the Green Belt area
  • It could harm the borough's heritage assets

During the meeting some residents spoke in favour of the attraction, arguing it would bring people into the town.

The application to turn a former council building into a community response post has been approved
The application to turn a former council building into a community response post has been approved

Harry Collins of Collins and Son in TW high street said: "I have weathered two recessions and seen Tunbridge Wells suffer. We need to drive people back to the town. 

"We need to act and bring businesses to town. We need to address unemployment. I hear people coming back from Bluewater and Lakeside. We need people to come to Tunbridge Wells. 

"I never thought at the age of 60 I'd believe in Father Christmas but we need this. We really do.

"I recommend that you give the one year trial. I do understand the anxieties by I do believe we can make this work."

The attraction was meant to open on Saturday, November 15 and substantial sections have already been built off site.

Father Christmas World 2015 was due to open, but plans have been scrapped
Father Christmas World 2015 was due to open, but plans have been scrapped

Mr Roger Nightingale, a supporter of Father Christmas World said at the meeting: "There have been plenty of positive comments about the FCW proposal and the benefits that the venue could bring to the local economy. 

"If refused, no benefits can come to Tunbridge Wells. I recommend that the council should give Father Christmas World a one year trial and a chance to prove that these benefits are deliverable. The trial would be subject to Markerstudy Leisure putting in place monitoring arrangements.

"If problems occurred, then it shall never happen again but it needs a chance."

"The vested self-interests of a minority have deprived thousands of the chance to enjoy the magical experience of Father Christmas World" - Markerstudy Leisure

Cllr Mrs Thomas questioned the extent of knock-on benefits for local businesses, she said: "The attraction is expected to take guests three and a half hours to make their way through. 

"I know as a mother that parents with children aren't going to want to go back in to town and spend more money, the benefit for local businesses would be minimal surely."

Cllr Elliott raised concerns over further congestion that the attraction could bring to the borough. He added: "I'm concerned about the congestion this will cause.

"It is interesting if you look at the consultation response form and look at where the supporters are from. I believe that these people are staff of Markerstudy Leisure from across the country." 

The final decision, after only 90 minutes of the meeting, was that the recommendation for the refusal of the application should be upheld.

Markerstudy Leisure released a statement to the Kent Messenger after the meeting, it read: "This is a sad day for the people and families of Tunbridge Wells particularly the children

"The vested self-interests of a minority have deprived thousands of the chance to enjoy the magical experience of Father Christmas World.We will now carefully consider our options and at this stage nothing is being ruled out."

Members of the public have been taking to social media to express their opinion on the result.

What do you think of the decision to refuse this application? Leave us your comments below.


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