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Legal challenge launched against £6m Stepaside holiday scheme

Pembrokeshire County Hall

A LEGAL challenge has been launched against a recently-granted scheme for a £6m expansion of a south Pembrokeshire holiday park, county planners heard.

The application for the works at Heritage Park, Pleasant Valley/Stepaside, which had attracted hundreds of objections, was passed at a special meeting of full council in November, despite fears it would set a precedent for other such schemes.

It had previously been backed twice by county planners after a ‘minded to approve’ cooling-off period was invoked as it was against repeated officer recommendations to refuse.

The controversial scheme by Heritage Leisure Development (Wales) Ltd  includes the installation of 48 bases for holiday lodges, a spa facility at a former pub, holiday apartments, a café and cycle hire, equestrian stables, a manège and associated office, and associated works.

It is said the scheme, next to the historic remains of the 19th century Stepaside ironworks and colliery, will create 44 jobs.

Officer grounds for refusal, based on the Local Development Plan, included the site being outside a settlement area.

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Along with 245 objections to the current scheme, Stepaside & Pleasant Valley Residents’ Group – formed to object to an earlier 2019 application – also raised a 38-page objection, with a long list of concerns, describing the current application as “a reincarnation of an earlier application, which first alerted the residents of Stepaside, Pleasant Valley and the surrounding villages of the applicant’s plans to implement a complex and sprawling development which would take over the whole valley”.

The 2019 application – which had been recommended for refusal – was later withdrawn.

Legal challenges have also been mounted in connection with applications on the site.

A legal challenge to try and overturn a council decision to approve three planning applications at Heritage Park was launched in 2021 by the Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents Group (SPVRG Ltd), led by Alec Cormack, with a judicial review starting later that year.

That legal challenge, before the-now council cabinet member for corporate finance Mr Cormack became a member of the county council, failed in early 2022.

Following that challenge failure, a question was submitted to full council last year after it was revealed the costs awarded to the council amounted to £10,000, despite the costs being higher.

That question was to be answered by Cllr Cormack, in his role as the Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance.

Cllr Alec Cormack, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance (Pic: Pembrokeshire county Council webcast)

At that December meeting, Cllr Cormack – who is believed to be no longer directly associated with the group – said the total cost to the council of the Heritage Park judicial review could not be confirmed, nor, by implication, the net cost.

However, in terms of the external third-party fees incurred by the council, Cllr Cormack stated that the external legal fees paid totalled £34,000 plus VAT.

He said that the Monitoring Officer had since confirmed verbally that the council did receive, from SPVRG Limited, the maximum £10,000 legal costs allowed under the Aarhus Convention cap, which limits the cost of any judicial review which had an element of an environmental claim to £10,000.

At the start of the February meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee, meeting this week, chairman Cllr Jacob Williams stated that notice of a legal challenge to the recently-approved application, by SPVRG Ltd, had been received by Pembrokeshire County Council.

SPVRG has been contacted for a response.