Agenda item

DM/2020/00762: Full planning application for the change of use of the visitor centre at Llandegfedd, to allow the building to be used for meetings, functions and events and to extend the opening hours approved under planning permission DC/2012/00442 - Visitor Centre, Llandegfedd Visitor Centre, Croes-gweddyn Road, Coed-y-Paen, Monmouthshire


We considered the reports of applications DM/2020/00762 and DM/2020/00763  together and with late correspondence, which were recommended for approval subject to the conditions outlined in the report.


Councillor Graham Rogers, Llangybi Community Council, attended the meeting and outlined the following points:


·         The commercialisation proposed will impact on the users of the Water Sports Centre which was originally granted permission for the exclusive use for water-based activities.

·         The impact on local residents of noise, light pollution, traffic and the general wellbeing of visitors who wish to walk or sit quietly enjoying nature are important considerations.

·         Many rare birds visit the site; the reservoir and surrounding land is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). All public bodies must take reasonable steps to further the conservation and enhancements of the reasons for the SSSI.

·         In Planning Policy Wales 11 there is a presumption against development likely to damage a SSSI echoed by Julie James MS for Climate Change, who proposes that the policy protection afforded to the SSSI needs to be strengthened. The proposals will not enhance the SSSI.

·         The proposals will damage the site and disturb over-wintering birds.  Suggestion that this will not occur is based on a wintering bird survey which is lacking in robustness.

·         If permission is granted, a further condition is suggested that no indoor events extend after 5pm between 1st November to 28th February to minimise the risk to overwintering birds.


The Local Member for Llangybi Fawr, also Planning Committee Member outlined the following points:


·         Urged deferment, or referral to Delegated Panel, for more in-depth surveys to ensure the SSSI will not be affected and no detrimental effect on wildlife.

·         No plausible justification to extend opening hours other than monetary.  No objection to holding business meetings but object to indoor and outdoor functions.

·         Introducing more human activity and loud music will have a negative impact on wildlife.

·         The Senedd introduced a nature emergency in 2021.  This application will be an overdevelopment of an SSSI site.

·         Torfaen CBC has a holding objection due to lack of evidence in surveys.

·         There are winding, narrow country lanes to access the site with no public transport so private vehicles and minibuses accessing functions will pose a threat to wildlife (badgers and otters especially in later evenings or early mornings) with no mitigation.

·         Residents will be impacted by large numbers of vehicles late at night

·         Lack of wintering bird surveys conducted.

·         Concerned that sound tests highlighted noticeable changes in behaviour of mallards.

·         Multiple organisations representing custodians of the environment have objected.

·         Referred to letter from Coed y Paen Residents Association suggested that if approved, consideration is given to amending the conditions


1.    Conditions 2 & 3: Suggested development only starts once the reports mentioned in Condition 4 have been supplied and reviewed by the planning authority. Also, to remove the phrase “subsequent year”.

2.    Condition 10:  It is requested that officers investigate an ongoing issue and clarify how the Committee can be satisfied that the light spillage has not had an adverse effect on wildlife especially bats. An existing condition has not been enforced.


A Video was presented by Nicholas Morley, Coed Y Paen Residents Association on behalf of the objectors to make the following points:


·         The proposed changes will damage the tranquillity and wildlife, and threaten existing activities in the Visitor and Water Sports Centre

·         Clear majority of Residents Association Members express opposition.

·         Additional human activity, additional hours with additional traffic, parking, and goods vehicles, additional noise and lighting will affect the ecology of the site.

·         Commercial activities would disrupt water sports activities and public access to the café, information sources and the water source centre.

·         The car park will overflow at peak times.

·         Accessible by single track lane which is e.g. too dangerous for children to cycle.

·         Strongly object to the proposals


Dylan Green, Applicants Agent responded in support of the changes with the following points:


·         Visitor Centre already benefits from planning permission for it to be used as a café and exhibition space, so principle of such functions in the visitor centre has already been agreed. 

·         Proposed extended opening hours and of expansion of the functions of the Visitor Centre doesn’t fundamentally change the use of the building so the principle of development is considered acceptable.

·         Objections from consultees due mainly to the reservoirs SSSI designation. Welsh Water has liaised closely with the Council throughout the application and fully adhered to all requests and agreed to carry out further assessments to mitigate the impact of development.

·         Many initial objections from statutory consultees have been removed to reflect the additional assessments that have been submitted.  NRW welcomes the overwinter bird survey work and is satisfied that initial concerns can be overcome and damage to the features the SSSI can be avoided if the proposed mitigation measures are implemented. The Council’s biodiversity officer offers no objections and confirmed that the imposition of strict management limitations of no outdoor activities during the main overwintering bird season (November to February) would mitigate adverse impact on the features of the SSSI.

·         Highways state no detriment to highway safety or capacity on immediate local highway network and Environmental Health Officer agrees.

·         Whilst the planning application is for all year round use of the buildings, any activities on site would be primarily in line with the conditions of the SSSI. There will be no external events with live or recorded music and indoor music will be limited to 11pm.

·         Regarding the change in opening hours , noise impact assessments have been carried out and concluded that as the nearest residential property is over 400m from the site on the other side of the reservoir, any noise generated from the facility will have a negligible effect.

·         Over-wintering bird surveys on the impact on the bird population have concluded with imposition of the suggested conditions, it is not anticipated that elevated noise levels will have significant impact on waterfowl abundance. Llandegfedd Reservoir is considered as a green infrastructure asset for the public to enjoy that ties into Planning Policy Wales in terms of place making and contributes to the seven goals of wellbeing in the Future Generations Act.

·         Safety of people using the visitor centre for events and potential behaviour is not a material planning consideration.


Having considered the report of the application and the views expressed, the following points were noted:


·         It was questioned if there could be two events on at the same time – may be better to consider the applications separately as there's the potential to halve the impact by potentially approving one and rejecting the other.

·         It was asked if light spill onto the reservoir is permissible under the current planning consent as the photos looked quite bad and could affect birds and bats.

·         Clarification was sought on the cut-off time for music indoors.


The Development Manager responded:


·         Confirming it states 12 external events for each application so 24 events per year.  28 days per calendar year to use land for a specific purpose for is allowed under permitted development rights. The application is limited to 24 days per calendar year.  There is a condition limiting concurrent events to two, and outdoor events would have to finish at 5.00pm.  Indoor events can go on later with music limited to 11.00pm.

·         The light spill observed was from the Visitor Centre internal lighting.  The condition on the original planning permission that would seek to control external lighting rather than internal lighting will be checked.  A new condition can be considered to try and control external and internal lighting to limit light spillage from the buildings.


The Head of Planning explained there is a difference of opinion with NRW, other professionals and ecologists. The Council’s Biodiversity Officer had no objections.  Members were encouraged to make a balanced decision referring to the robust conditions, monitoring and ecological enhancement.


Continuing to consider the report of the application and the views expressed, the following points were noted:


·         The proposals will affect the site and surrounding communities (humans and nature)

·         The volume of documents and objections is overwhelming.

·         Objections from ecologists, NRW, Wildlife experts and organisations cannot be ignored e.g. the impact on birds, otters, bats, badgers etc

·         The condition monitoring otter or badger mortality at the site entrance is upsetting, retrospect and won’t stop wildlife mortality.

·         How will litter be managed?

·         What is classed as an event and how many people can the venues hold?

·         Is the public able to access the site during events. What impact will there be on the highway and verges if visitors cannot park on site. If events are advertised the narrow roads will be busier.

·         Welcome a meeting on site with Torfaen CBC officers, NRW, the applicant and ecologists to get a better understanding of the hides and the types of wildlife.

·         Is this a suitable party venue? No objections to meetings and events but not a party venue.

·         The balcony of The Visitor Centre is allowed as an extension of the venue until 11 o'clock at night so with the light spill and music , its similar to an external event.

·         Regarding the overwintering birds report and other wildlife, it was queried if there are plans to monitor ongoing impact if approval is granted.

·         It was considered that the only advantage is to the applicant.


The Development Manager responded:


·         Otters are unfortunately commonly subject to road mortality. The proposals would not significantly increase the number of vehicles using the highway network. There is an opportunity to establish a baseline from a survey of otter mortality. Adjustments can be made if the trend rises.

·         The large carpark should cater for the users of the premises.

·         Noise will be contained within the building and if there is noise when windows are open, Environmental Health can monitor that. Welsh Water is the responsible body with corporate responsibility to engage with the community, to be considerate and responsible operators of the site.

·         Regarding over wintering birds there is condition which provides a safeguard of no use (including internal use) between 1st November to 28th February until a winter bird monitoring program has been agreed by the local planning authority with NRW.


The Head of Planning referred to the wildlife and emphasised that a balance is needed in terms of planning policy with the Minister for Climate Change’s letter regarding the need to protect our SSSI.  The proposed uses are heavily restricted. Members were reminded that there are two applications. If there are concerns about the cumulative impacts of both developments, it may be more appropriate for members to consider whether just one of the applications is considered favourably.  Members were reminded not accepting officers’ recommendations when there are no objections, could incur appeal process costs.


Continuing to consider the report of the application and the views expressed, the following points were noted:


·         It was understood that Welsh Water considers the water sport building is underused but as it is in an SSSI, it should be considered how to better use it to reflect its special nature.

·         A Member suggested a compromise of rejecting the Visitor Centre but approving the heavily conditioned application on the water sports centre. It reduces the impact on the wildlife as it’s further away.

·         A Member suggested deferment to allow Welsh Water to consider which application to bring back.

·         The Visitors Centre is nearest to the road so after dark there are lights from passing vehicles. The reservoir has areas where wildlife can exist well without being affected and would be further away from nesting birds.

Upon being put to the vote the following votes were recorded:


For approval                - 3

Against approval         - 11

Abstentions                 - 0


The proposal based on the officer’s recommendation was rejected.


We resolved that application DM/2020/00762 be deferred to be refused


Proposed by CC Ben Callard and seconded by CC Jan Butler, the reason of refusal was based on ecological reasons but, as per adopted protocol, the matter would be reported back to a subsequent Committee for a reason for refusal to be debated.

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