Friday, 18 June 2021

Watersports centre without permission ‘could harm wildlife’

Watersports centre without permission ‘could harm wildlife’

A WATERSPORTS centre in Caversham has been criticised for operating despite not having planning permission.

Cosmonaut Leisure, which opened at Caversham Lakes off Henley Road in August, now wants retrospective consent to use the site’s northern lake for sport and recreation.

The centre has been shut for much of the past eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic but re-opened earlier this month.

Cosmonaut has told South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, that it will operate from 6am to 8pm offering activities including kayaking, swimming and paddleboarding.

The firm also needs permission to use a motorised safety boat.

Eye and Dunsden Parish Council has recommended refusing the scheme, citing concerns about wildlife and highway safety.

It says the centre will attract extra traffic, which will “greatly” increase the risk of a serious accident. It told the district council: “The applicant has openly declared that — with the benefit of planning permission to merely change the use of the site — it intends to expand the facility to a fully functional, commercial aqua park.

“[Its] actions to date clearly demonstrate that it has little regard for planning conditions and the detrimental impact the proposed park will have on the surrounding ecology, wildlife and residents.

“British Rowing, who operate the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake which shares the service road, have previously expressed grave concerns over the safety of the [entrance] junction.”

The parish council says several new buildings have gone up including an office block, toilets and changing rooms. Barriers have also been erected, preventing the public from using a permissive footpath, which the council wants removed.

It adds: “The application fails to mention that the site lies within a designated nature reserve... the proposed works, much of which have already been carried out without permission, fly in the face of this.

“The applicant has cleared significant swathes of vegetation, particularly during the nesting season, removed planted shrubs and felled numerous trees, which we have been informed continues despite a tree preservation order.”

The Environment Agency has also objected, saying the applicant didn’t give enough information about flooding and the ecological impact and the site could have significant conservation value.

Reading Borough Council is concerned about extra traffic as there were about 500 visitors over the last August bank holiday.

Helen Lambert, chairwoman of Caversham and District Residents’ Association, claimed there hadn’t been proper consultation.

She said: “There is no doubt this facility will be very popular.

“However, the association is concerned that it has been created without the appropriate permissions and without the protection which should be afforded to a nature reserve.” Cosmonaut’s agent Pegasus Group said Caversham Lakes was an established watersports complex and the centre would offer new sports such outdoor swimming.

The 80 bays in the car park would not be marked out in order to preserve the area’s rural appearance.

Pegasus said: “The application site forms part of an established wider facility of similar-sized lakes which are already used for sport and recreation.

“The proposed change of use is of an entirely appropriate scale and type to the location and adheres with this policy.

“The proposal seeks to provide a lake and water related activities for the enjoyment of the public.

“This will increase the opportunity to enjoy the countryside and associated amenities.”

The site was used by Tarmac, which runs the quarry in Playhatch Road, Sonning, to extract gravel but has been vacant for 10 years.

The district council is due to decide the application by May 4.

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