YDNPA, Aysgarth Falls Hotel and river pollution

Above: the field north of Aysgarth Falls Hotel where the 14 lodges are to be built.  Aysgarth Falls Hotel is top left.

An ARC News Service report on the debate at the YDNPA planning committee on October 3 2023 when approval was given to  Aysgarth Falls Hotel  for full planning permission  for 14 hotel lodges (2 accessible, 3 family and 9 regular) and two facility buildings, together with alterations to the hotel including additional restaurant and bar area, enlarged kitchen facility, minor external layout configuration and staff accommodation. This  also included an 18-space car park, landscaping and drainage proposals including an attenuation pond. The pond will be at the north east end of the field close to the footpath.

This decision led to the Association of Rural Communities deciding to sponsor an open meeting about the health of the River Ure.  The meeting is at 7.30pm on Tuesday April 30 at Leyburn Methodist Church Hall. There will be presentations by Charlotte Simons of Yorkshire Dales River Trust; Hannah Fawcett, farm conservation advisor, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority; and  Clare Beasant, River Health Improvement Manager, Yorkshire Water. Plus some reports and questions from the audience.

Alastair Dinsdale’s statement to the committee regarding river pollution:

Many years ago I used to empty the small sewage settling tank in the meadow which served the hotel and the youth hostel.  The system was already inundated 50 years ago and discharged raw sewage into the wood and river below. Eventually Yorkshire Water installed the small package sewerage plant below the mill cottages. This is made inaccessible to anything other than small vehicles by the tunnel under Yore Mill and will make removal of solids and other bulk materials difficult. The system discharges directly into the river above the middle falls. When i=I visited the outfall last Wednesday afternoon it was discharging milky coloured liquid with unfiltered solids sweetcorn kernals.

These sewerage plants work using bacteria and will not work with amounts of fats, oils, cleaning chemicals, disinfectants and certainly not the contents of hot tubs, which are emptied along with their chemical contents and refilled between each new guests, as standard practice. All these products kill the bacteria and render the treatment plant ineffective – useless.

According to the environment agency the Upper Dales Yore Catchment has a problem with phosphate pollution, the cause of algae blooms. Phosphates are a major ingredient of cleaning products and probably responsible for 90% of the problem in the catchment due to outdated and ineffective sewerage plants.

The applicant has put forward arbitrary figures suggesting a reduction in discharge but what sort of discharge? What goes down that pipe ends up in the Falls. Nitrates, phosphates, chlorines, medicines, and all those other nasty’s.

Capacity of the sewerage plant

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the plant was at capacity before the granting of planning permission  in May 2022 for the Yore Mill development of nine apartments plus retail, including toilets. No mention of sewerage in that application apart from to say surface water drainage will be dealt with via the existing sewerage system. Does the Authority have the population equivalent dry weather peak flow loads at high tourism season?

In view of the lack of detailed information from Yorkshire Water a full environmental assessment should be undertaken of the whole catchment area of the sewerage treatment plant as it is now – without further development.

Above : the small sewerage treatment plant near the Middle Falls which serves properties in Church Bank as well as Aysgarth Falls Hotel  Photo by Alastair Dinsdale

Conclusion

These proposals fail to pass the test of the statutory purpose of the National Park to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. The proposal also fails national park policy framework on sustainable development or sustainable rural tourism – very high carbon footprint, no renewable energy,

Environmental impact, open country, legal protection etc

A lot of work has been undertaken by various agencies and landowners to reduce pollution into the river Ure. Does this committee want to act against these efforts and be responsible for causing more pollution? Yorkshire Water is listed as the worst for discharging sewage into water courses in the country. Does this committee want to be its partner in pollution?

Planning Committee debate

Polluting the River Ure will have the opposite effect upon attracting more tourists to stay at Aysgarth North Yorkshire councillor Simon Myers told Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee on October 3.

The majority of the committee voted to approve the application by Aysgarth Falls Hotel to extend the accommodation there by building 14 lodges because, as one said, it would have a positive impact on the local economy – a belief that Aysgarth and District Parish Council strongly disagreed with (see below).

Cllr Myers however had stated:  ‘I am very troubled about Yorkshire Water, as they often [just say that] “we don’t have a problem with it”, when the evidence of the objectors is that this system is at full capacity.’

He wanted an answer he said because so many water sources up and down the country were being polluted by sewerage and mentioned the River Nidd. The committee was told by local farmer, Alastair Dinsdale, chairman of the Association of Rural Communities that Yorkshire Water had installed a small sewerage package plant several years ago to serve the houses near Aysgarth Falls.

‘The system discharges directly into the river above the middle falls. When I visited the outfall last Wednesday afternoon it was discharging milky coloured liquid with unfiltered solids sweetcorn kernals. ‘These plants work on bacteria and will not work with amounts of fats, oils, cleaning chemicals, disinfectants. All these products kill the bacteria and render the treatment plant ineffective.’

He especially mentioned the hot tubs which had been included in the planning application. He continued: ‘According to the environment agency the Upper Dales Yore Catchment has a problem with phosphate pollution, the cause of algae blooms. Phosphates are a major ingredient of cleaning products and probably responsible for 90% of the problem in the catchment due to outdated and ineffective sewerage plants.’

He said anecdotal evidence suggested that the plant was at capacity before the granting of planning permission for the Yore Mill development of nine apartments plus retail, including toilets, in May 2022.  He added: ‘In view of the lack of detailed information from Yorkshire Water a full environmental assessment should be undertaken of the whole catchment area of the sewerage treatment plant as it is now – without further development.’  (see end of report for his full statement)

The parish council had stated: ‘We remain convinced that [fourteen]  lodges with their own toilets and unrestricted use of bath and shower facilities all year round represents a significant increased load on the local service compared to the limited demand from caravans and campers who predominantly use the site in the summer season only. It would appear that Yorkshire Water still have issues with the proposal.’

The applicant’s agent, Steve Hesmondhaigh, told the committee: ‘Our engineers have demonstrated and agreed with Yorkshire Water that a neutral or better than neutral outflow would result from this scheme. In other words, there will be no increase in outflow from this site as part of the planned development.’

Member Allen Kirkbride said he wanted to know more about the impact upon the River Ure and asked for a decision to be deferred so that there could be a site meeting.

Cllr Richard Foster, the head of development management, Richard Graham, and other members, however, said it was unlikely Yorkshire Water would be able to provide any further comment

Cllr Foster said: ‘Their role is to provide sewerage works in the area. We may see this as a problem but we cannot make planning decisions on the basis of that.’

Mr Graham told the committee that Yorkshire Water had not yet responded to a request for further information in addition to what was stated in the officer’s report that it had no objections to the proposed development subject to conditions requiring the development to be carried out in accordance with the drainage strategy, and subject to an undeveloped easement in the vicinity of the public sewer.

The planning officers, Mr Graham said, were quite satisfied with all the information that the applicant had submitted with the application.

Members were, however, concerned about hot tubs being beside some of the lodges. So, through the chair, the agent for the applicant was questioned about this. There was laughter at the response – that the hot tubs would be replaced with outdoor baths (so no chlorine). [The conditions now state there must be no hot tubs and no outdoor baths can be installed without approval.]

Jim Munday was one of the members who emphasised the business aspect of the application

‘This is a significant investment in the development and updating of an existing business. We should think of it for what it is – it is additional bedrooms. We have a great shortage of hotel accommodation within the Dales – there are very, very few that could take a small bus load and this would help all year round. Also, it retains staff accommodation as well as giving opportunities for further increases in staff. Yorkshire Water will say what Yorkshire Water will say.’

He believed that the lodges ‘in the back garden’ would look better than the ‘visually awful’ hard standings for motorhomes and caravans.

Mr Hesmondhaigh stated one of the aims was to stimulate further expenditure in the local economy. ‘Our aim was to produce a scheme that is sensitive to the national park setting and objectives whilst reflecting the need … to ensure that the Aysgarth Falls Hotel complex is a successful [and] financially viable facility in this key national park location.’

He said it was a two-pronged approach to planned development: to improve the facilities of the hotel especially the restaurant; to replace the caravan, mobile home and camping site with an accessible hotel room pods scheme to develop the sustainable investment in the hotel facilities; to extend the off-season and to enhance the viability of the business.

John Dinsdale told the committee that the parish council and the local community believed that some issues had been misrepresented in the planning officer’s report and by the applicant’s supporting documents.

He said: ‘The planning officer’s recommendation is to approve this application and cites planning policies designed to promote tourism, but our view is that recommendation fails to take account of all the relevant data.’

He reminded the committee that this had been listed as a Major Planning Application. That was not addressed by the planning officer in her report. Cllr Foster said he was surprised that this was not mentioned and that the application was only referred to the planning committee because the parish council had objected.

(According to the National Planning Policy Framework  permission should be refused for major developments in National Parks except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of: The need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy… and any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated.)

Comparisons between planning officer’s report and the parish council’s objections

Planning officer: ‘Some harm will arise from the loss of the tent and touring caravan pitches but this is considered to be offset by the benefits of providing a year round tourism offer, plus economic and employment benefits in a sustainable location.’ She said the loss of 20 tent and 10 tourer pitches met the test of an insignificant loss which would be offset by the economic employment, supply chain and year-round tourism benefits.

John Dinsdale told the committee:

‘To say that the loss of facilities at this site for campervans and caravans only represents a tiny proportion of the sites in Wensleydale is a total misrepresentation of the true impact and appears to be contrary to the aims of newer policies. In reality, the loss of this site represents not 5% but 66% of the space in the immediate area. If the Street Head site is included, that is reduced to about 40%, but the other sites all quote 90% occupancy for the time they are open, so there is no spare capacity.

‘When casting the net wider to include the next nearest sites, the ten-mile radius is reached; this puts them out of walking distance, especially as campervans and caravans are usually static once they have arrived and setup for their stay. Visitors from the further sites to this area would need to drive which newer policies are designed to discourage and would only add to pollution, road traffic and the already documented serious parking problems that this area suffers from. Additionally, and quite properly, the current high cost of accommodation at the site run by the applicant and the likely cost of the proposed new accommodation has not been considered, but the loss of lower cost accommodation in the immediate area must be considered.

Planning officer: It would expand the short-stay tourism season into the quieter months and also has good potential to increase the number of day/evening visitors to Aysgarth, through the increased food and drink offers. As the site is within a ‘honeypot’ location, there is a reasonable likelihood that the proposal would complement existing tourism offers and increase spend in the local economy. The [applicants’] Guest Management Plan clarifies that just as in other hotel offers, visitors would not be required to take all meals within the hotel, only breakfast, and there is a high likelihood that other premises would also be visited during stays given the sustainability of the location.’

She said staff accommodation would ensure staff stay local to their workplace and would spend in the local area. In general, the proposal would increase the number of jobs available, and figures have been supplied to justify the suggested net gain of 17 jobs.

Parish council:

The parish council had pointed out that there was a shortage of workers for the local hospitality industry and so the additional competition would impact on other businesses nearby.

It stated: In these changing economic times touring caravans have become an increasingly important asset to boost the local economy. There is now a Shop/Post Office in Aysgarth which caters for the needs of self-catering visitors, and caravanners and campers are regular users of the facilities. The sale of these self-catering consumables makes a significant contribution to the profitability of that enterprise, and this footfall also supports other businesses in the local area. Clearly, closing the site to self-catering visitors would have a detrimental impact on the shop and damage its viability as well as having a harmful effect to the local economy generally.

The parish council also stated:

The Parish Council re-affirms the strong objection submitted on 02.02.23 .The Parish Council closed its submission in February with ‘The Parish Council welcomes investment in the businesses and infrastructure in our area and will look to support diversification, where appropriate, to deliver maximum local community benefit. We seek to engender a collaborative approach with all parties to support the future prosperity of our area and encourage everyone to communicate and engage with us’. In the five months since this submission, there has been no attempt by the applicant to engage with the Parish Council or rebut any of the serious concerns expressed by the Parish Council and residents. The amended proposal seems to merely be a rearrangement of the proposed lodges and a change to some of the materials used. We find nothing in the updated proposal that addresses the main concerns and objections.’

Impact upon the landscape:

The planning officer reported that both the Area Ranger and the Police had recommended a fence to be constructed between the footpath and the lodge site.

She stated: ‘As the footpath crosses the northern portion of the site, users of the PROW would directly experience the development in its entirety, and throughout the year rather than the existing seasonal experience. Taking account of the existing manicured and semi-engineered landform, clear relationship with the hotel building and other settlement features, and also the design quality, the development in this area would not be so unexpected to the user’s experience as to be unduly harmful.’

She also stated: ‘Whilst the proposal undoubtedly spreads the extent of development deeper into the site, the proposals for low-profile lodge rooms (including DDA compliant accommodation), is considered to be a positive means of expanding the business without providing a large extension to the hotel building itself, and the design challenges associated with this form of expansion. On balance the proposal has an acceptable landscape impact and design quality, taking account of the existing use and appearance of the site, the landscape proposals, and the sensitive design treatments.’

Parish council: The footpath follows a well-established route and crosses down the camping field behind the Aysgarth Falls Hotel. People using this footpath do so to avoid using the road and to enjoy the rural setting and visual amenity immediate area’. This development it said would damage the experience the visitors have come for and expect.

Light pollution.

The parish council argued that the terrace extension at the rear of the main building will generate significant light pollution directly over the immediate adjoining SSSI of Aysgarth Falls which it will overlook. It stated this would be a significant change and would have an impact all year round.

In her report the planning officer quoted the wildlife conservation officer who stated: ‘Concerns with regards to external lighting, and its impact on the woodland beside the River Ure can be addressed by condition.’

In the decision notice there is a condition regarding any external lighting to ensure the protection of the dark skies of the national park – but no mention of light from the terrace extension.

The parish council also listed the sewage issues, and the new late premises licence leading to noise pollution and disruption.

 

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