New aboretum, visitor centre, shops and cafe at Barcham Trees site win approval from East Cambs Council
- Credit: Archant
An arboretum, lake, visitor centre, shops, café, and conference centre have been approved for the Barcham Trees site that will sprawl across 17 acres, provide an extra 25 job and attract tens of thousands of visitors annually. John Elworthy
East Cambridgeshire District Council Planning Committee approved the ambitious plans yesterday that could see annual turn over for Barcham Trees at Eye Hill Drove, Soham, grow from £5.5million annually to around £10 million.
The company, that is the largest container tree nursery in Europe, had the support of a range of interests including the tourism office of East Cambs that believes there will be a knock on affect for the whole district.
“There are no other directly comparable visitor attractions in the district and a facility
of this kind can only be beneficial to the local and tourist economy,” said a report by planning officers. It also won support from Soham Town Council.
But officers also warned that “it is accepted that the scale of the proposal is such that it will alter the character of the area, in particular Eye Hill Drove through the highway improvement works proposed.
“The proposal will result in an increase in traffic and nearby residents will be affected by the intensification of activity on the Barcham Trees site. These matters attract some weight against the proposal.”
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However they also noted that there is “significant policy support in principle for the proposal and the applicant is utilising part of their existing holding on which to create the arboretum and visitor centre.
“At present there are limited opportunities for customers to visit the business and the applicant is seeking to showcase their products in the arboretum as well as providing enhanced conference and educational facilities that are separate from the operational side of the business.”
Transport assessments discussed by the committee heard that the likely number of vehicle movements to and from the application site has informed the car parking arrangements for the site. There will be room for just over 100 vehicles and a total of 150 formal car parking spaces are therefore proposed. In addition an overflow parking area is being proposed.
The proposed visitor centre will contain a significant amount of retail space (2,099sqm internal space and 4,211sqm external space).
Barcham Trees says the space will be predominantly for comparison goods and while this is not the primary purpose of the development, it is an important ancillary element of the overall visitor experience.
Councillors were told that a “rudimentary assessment” of a number of garden centres within the district has been carried out by the applicant and an appraisal of the suitability of those sites for the proposed scheme was done.
It was felt that these garden centres operate differently to Barcham’s proposals in that their primary function is as a garden centre, and their stock is traditional garden centre stock.
The operation of the arboretum and visitor centre will be primarily to function as a visitor facility and tourist attraction to showcase trees. The proposal includes 6310sqm (0.631 ha) of internal and external retail space, however, this is in comparison to a total site area of 6.9 ha, with the arboretum itself occupying 48,000sqm (4.8ha) of the site.
“The applicant seeks to justify the amount of retail space by referring to the need to display products in an uncluttered environment and include the display or larger bulky goods produced by Barcham Trees themselves,” said the planners report.
As part of the scheme improvements have been proposed for Eye Hill Drove which includes a new footway and carriageway widening to the entrance of the development.
“These measures mitigate the impact on this section of the highway as they will allow two vehicles to pass unobstructed and provide an adequate route for pedestrians,” said the report.
The British Horse Society said they did not object to the proposal in principle but objects to use of Eye Hill Drove as the main entrance.
They also felt no consideration had been given to the fact that over 30 horses are liveried on these lanes and regularly used to exercise horses and access livery/private yards.
They also had issues over Eye Hill Drove and Barcham Road becoming a ‘rat run’ and claimed letters of support were not in the neighbourhood but were business associates of Barcham Trees.
The committee heard that a mixed response of comments ranged from support for extra jobs and encouraging tourism to those who felt the extra traffic and disruption was too high a price to pay.
Many comments questioned access and traffic volumes of the A142 and issues affecting removal of trees and hedgerows along Eye Hill Drove for road widening.
Bidwells, acting on behalf of Scotsdales Gardens Centres Ltd, argued that many of the uses proposed by Barcham Trees should, under planning policies, be restricted to town centres.,
They claimed that there were no quantitative assessments of the impact on businesses in Ely, Soham and Newmarket and how these would be affected.
“It is a significant proposal located in an inaccessible rural location and is wholly unsustainable,” they said. “It benefits from no bus stops or services, and it would not be possible to walk or cycle to the site from Soham or Ely with any degree of safety given how busy the A142 can be. As such the only way to access this site is by car.”