Cornwall planning: Art dealer's proposal could lead to 'disaster' and have 'catastrophic effects'

A planning committee has heard that a controversial planning application for pond that was already created without permission could lead to a "disaster" and have "catastrophic effects". The development and subsequent application have been opposed by thousands of people,

Art dealer Barnes Thomas, who has appeared on Bear Grylls' show The Island, applied to keep a 80m by 30m pond he'd built on his land. He said he didn't realise he needed planning permission. However, residents living in the Cot Valley, near St Just in west Cornwall, started a petition to protect the landscape and have the pond removed. It has been signed by over 4,500 people.

The proposal came before Cornwall Council's west area planning committee today (Tuesday, May 28). Key issues as outlined by planning officer Diane Boardman were the visual impact of the pond with regard to the National Landscape (formerly known as the area of outstanding natural beauty), flood risk and impact on bird strike hazards at nearby Land's End Airport.

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However, she stated the application was supported by sufficient information in respect of flood risk, while the Environment Agency did not object, subject to conditions.

Land's End Airport did object but Ms Boardman said the application was supported by a bird strike management plan. Cornwall National Landscape Team also objected as the pond - which has been described as more akin to a lake by some - partially infills a section of the valley. "However, given the scale of development in respect of visual impact, the planning department does not consider it to be substantial, so its impact does not warrant refusal," added the planning officer.

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The contentious pond created by Barnes Thomas
The contentious pond created by Barnes Thomas, which is now empty -Credit:Barnes Thomas

Chris Pearson, airport manager and senior air traffic control officer at Land's End, described as the "critical link" to the Isles of Scilly, told councillors the pond is adjacent to the centre line of the main runway. He said the airport instructed that a bird strike hazard assessment was undertaken by Mr Thomas.

"This was carried out but not shared with the airport. On reading the report one wonders if it was not shared as it is rightly quite damning about the proposal due to aircraft safety," said Mr Pearson. It showed there was a hazard risk from waterfowl species attracted to the pond, such as Canada geese and herons, and it was in a critical piece of airspace - the final approach to the runway where aircraft fly low.

Mr Pearson added: "While the mitigations mentioned in the report may assist with managing increased risk, they will not negate them and increased risk remains." He said unlike other ponds and lakes in the area, the pond was directly beneath the flightpath of planes heading to the runway.

He said having such a body of water near a main runway at a commercial airport was "not wise". "No other airport would or should support such a proposal. It is surely the primary task of all parties to ensure the continued safety of the public above all other matters? Therefore I ask that permission is refused."

St Just-in-Penwith Town Council member Martin Cavell said he was there to remind the committee of the concerns of the local council and residents regarding the "new lake".

"One of the biggest concerns is the ecology of the surrounding area and in particular the stream the lake has fed from and discharges into. The applicant did commission his own ecology report but there's no report or survey of the effects on the surrounding area.

"However, his commissioned report does admit probable effects to the stream by the extraction of water and discharge of sediments from the lake. The National Trust were not consulted but as a significant stakeholder have found it necessary to make a public comment regarding their concerns and objections to the lake. They say 'we are not presently convinced that this development is appropriate and provides the necessary ecological mitigation and enhancements'."

Of the airport's concerns, he said St Just councillors' consciences wouldn't allow them to support an application which "one day could be contributory to a disaster".

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Chris Tofts, head of Stephens Scown solicitors' planning team, said the pond was created to provide a wildlife area and water for cattle. He said it was currently empty and had been for some time, following a planning enforcement request (although the planning officer later said there was no request to empty the pond).

He said Mr Thomas had taken the airport's concerns seriously and carried out a bird strike hazard assessment. Mitigation included dense vegetation or fencing around the pond and no islands on the pond, which had been proposed as a condition by the planning officer. Mr Tofts said the airport had not challenged the assessment's findings or recommendations, and the company which carried out the assessment was recommended by the airport operator. "The report does not say there will be a net increase in risk with the mitigation proposed."

He added that an ecology report was carried out by the commercial arm of Cornwall Wildlife Trust, which found the pond was created on land which was of previously low ecological value, concluding that it was a valuable addition to the biodiversity of the surrounding area.

Cllr Loveday Jenkin asked what the wildlife and agricultural benefits were of the pond having a platform, stone posts, an entrance and a track leading to it. Mr Tofts replied they were there to make it look attractive.

The committee's deputy chair Cllr Guy Foreman pointed out that one of the mitigations was to fence the pond off, but asked if that happened how would cattle drink from it - one of the reasons cited for its creation. Mr Tofts said a management plan would allow the cattle to go in but not the geese.

Cllr Foreman, who has an aviation background, said an airport representative wouldn't have spoken at the meeting lightly and believed such a body of water near the main runway was "abysmal". Cllr Loic Rich said he was happy with the bird risk plan and argued that all airports had lakes around them, including Heathrow, "the biggest airport in the country, if not the world".

Cllr John Keeling, who had also worked in the aviation industry said he had seen the damage caused by bird strikes, adding the reasons for the lake were "pretty weak ... why bring in an unnecessary hazard?"

Cllr Jenkin said: "I can't see any reason to support this proposal at all. It was done without any permission. We're talking about something that creates a hazard in an area where that hazard could have catastrophic effects. The landscape impact of it is not in keeping with the character of the area - the Cot Valley is a small valley with lots of vegetation, not a deep lake. The structures around it are not appropriate to the open countryside. The mitigation proposals would have an impact on the landscape."

The retrospective application was refused on the grounds of it being an "incongruous and conspicuous addition to the landscape" with nine councillors voting in favour of refusal and one against.