Plans for “sheer decadence” Mortimer Forest cabins are cancelled (updated)

If you go down to the woods today, you won’t find hot tubs. At least not near Ludlow.

The application from Forest Holidays for cabins in Mortimer Forest is not to go ahead. The project’s webpage has been deleted. That’s great. But we need to think about how to manage tourism in the Mortimer Forest in the longer term.  

Update. The Shropshire Star has published a quote from the Forestry Commission confirming that the scheme will not go ahead. There is also a statement on the Forest Holidays website:

During our extensive research and consultation process we have encountered some challenging practical issues. As a result of these we are not in a position to bring forward a planning application for Mortimer Forest and will focus instead on our many other priorities.

The background is the Defra review of the relationship between the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays. Auditors have criticised the relationship (The Times).[1]

The idea of creating limited tourist accommodation in the Mortimer Forest is not bad in principle. But it needs to be at a scale that works with the forest and is in keeping with a remote rural spot.

Forest Holidays promised this but its promises didn’t stack up. It talked about a “sunlit forest glade, birdsong on the breeze, absolute peace.” But at the same time, it boasted hot tubs and “sheer decadence” for its resorts. It propagates a model that gives urban dwellers with SUVs a buzz of “experiencing nature” without them ever getting down to the gritty reality of the working countryside. It is theme park experience.

It is right that this scheme has been abandoned. The narrow lanes to the site could not have coped with the traffic. The development would have been in an area that of woodland lacks biodiversity due to poor management. Its huge size would have meant that it would have damaged on biodiversity throughout the Mortimer Forest.

The relationship between Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission should end. The House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee must hold a hearing into how a government body became so entranced by a lousy deal with a developer that has proved to be more interested in “decadence” than the natural environment.[2]

There has been a strong and well run community campaign against the plans. It seems their battle is over. I hope that the energy behind the protests can now be channelled into helping the Mortimer Forest thrive.

We need to continue to promote the Ludlow area as a tourist destination. But this must not be at the expense of the incredible landscape that attracts visitors in the first place.

In our times, people move around more. They visit more places. We need to think how best to manage that in the Ludlow area and the Mortimer Forest.

Notes

[1]. I have an FoI submitted to obtain an appendix to committee minutes detailing the criticism. Unusually this minute is not online. Update: Defra responded quickly to my FoI request. Here are the minutes of the meeting and the redacted audit report. The documents do not give a balance sheet for how much the Forestry Commission gains from its relationship with Forest Holidays. But they do show that the Commission has made a significant cash contribution as well unquantified staff time. 

[2]. Files at Companies House show that Forest Holidays is profitable. Between 2016 and 2018, the company increased its profits before interest, tax and depreciation by 20%, up from £8,636,000 to £10,364,000. There is widespread concern about how much of this profit finds it way back to the public purse and whether that is sufficient compensation for the 125-year lease and promotional benefits provided by the Forestry Commission. And despite the healthy projects, a confidential report considered by the Forestry Commission Board of Commissioners on 14 December 2017 is titled “Final Report on the proposed refinancing of the Forest Holidays Business.” Four days later, three directors resigned from Forest Holidays and seven from the holding company, Forest Holidays Group. It is impossible to read anything into this pattern of events without having the full information but it is a situation that would make investors ask questions.

One thought on “Plans for “sheer decadence” Mortimer Forest cabins are cancelled (updated)

  1. I know you will remain vigilant; these things have a habit of creeping back once the dust has settled..

Comments are closed.