Former Burgh Island owner 'flabbergasted' by planning decision

By Chris Derrick in Planning

The former owner of Burgh Island has hit back at the decision to grant planning permission to a ‘pool house’ on the island.

Last month, SHDC granted permission for the building that straddles the headland and a rock stack, the design of which was the culmination of an architectural competition, narrowly given approval with a vote of four against three, with three abstentions.

Present at the meeting, Tony Porter, who sold the Island to Deborah Clark and Tony Orchard in 2001, said he was "flabbergasted". Mr Porter has provided images showing what he describes as “pictorial evidence of how the ugly building perched on the ancient rocks of the Mermaid Pool would appear to visitors either from the top of Folly Hill, or, even closer, from the popular South West Coast Path.”

He continued: “When we owned the island, our policy was always to restore not add. Already the new owners have added hundreds of solar panels, and now this.

“I’m afraid the beauty of the island might be being slowly defaced. I still have such a love for the place, where we spent 16 years of our lives. I hate to see it being disfigured in this way.”

He added: “The application originally described the building as a ‘stand-alone suite’ for the hotel, but, over the last three months, it has changed to be a ‘pool house’.

“I think it’s a highly dangerous project, far from the hotel, with a perilous drop on both sides of the pathway leading to it. There is still time to prevent this thing from scarring the island, and I have strong support from the head of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to complain about last month’s decision. I will welcome multiple contact from all those lovers of Burgh Island, far and wide, who can join me in my efforts.”

Former Bigbury Parish councillor, Peter Cook spoke at the South Hams District Council Development Management Committee meeting where permission was granted.

Mr Cook said that he knew “almost every local resident” and that nobody he knew is “in favour of this development”.

Mr Cook called the building a “concrete carbuncle” and said the “brutal design” was “inappropriate” in a “prominent position”, and would ruin the Mermaid Pool above which the building is proposing to sit.

Mr Cook focused on the visibility of the building from Folly Hill approaching Bigbury-on-Sea and from the South West Coast Path at Clematon Hill, noting that none of the photos in the application took into account the downwards view from the coast paths.

He also said the application is “contrary to policy CS1 of the South Hams Core Strategy and DP2 of the South Hams Development Policy”.

Policy CS1 states: “It is important to protect, conserve and enhance the character features of the landscape... the finite resources of the undeveloped coastal zone.”

While Policy CS9 states: “The quality, character, diversity and local distinctiveness of the natural and historic environment will be conserved and enhanced”. The DMC were told that Burgh Island doesn’t actually fall within the AONB, something that is thought to be a drafting error - as the beaches surrounding it do, so objectors describe it as “being in the setting of the AONB”.

The AONB themselves recommended refusal of the application on the grounds that it could “harm the landscape” and the council received one letter of support and ten letters of objection from members of the public.

Roger English, manager of the South Devon AONB said: “We’re clearly disappointed that the DMC went against the advice given by the AONB Unit - but they weighed it against other factors in favour of the application.

“The AONB is not in a position to make a legal challenge to this decision, but Mr Porter is at liberty to use our objections as part of a legal challenge, if that’s the action he wishes to take.

“Although the application site lies outside of the South Devon AONB boundary, Burgh Island makes an established and extensive contribution to the setting of the South Devon AONB. National policy together with our planning guidance is clear that the requirement during decision-taking to apply ‘great weight’ to conserving landscape and scenic beauty applies regardless of whether a development is located within the AONB or its setting. The key consideration is whether the AONB will be affected by the proposal. In our view the AONB would be affected and in a negative way.

“While the owners of the island assert it is a hamlet, it is clearly a mainly undeveloped island with a prominent hotel and a number of clustered ancillary buildings.”

“Our view is that the island as a whole and the specific location for the hotel suite proposal is undeveloped coast. There are strong landscape, heritage coast, undeveloped coast and AONB grounds to have refused development in this sensitive and unsustainable location.”

The current owners were approached for a comment, but none had been received at the time of going to press.

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