An historic Derbyshire stately home has been ordered to remove an axe-throwing range, air rifle shooting range and archery range it built without planning permission.
The Grade-II*-listed Willersley Castle next to the River Derwent in Cromford is undergoing a new lease of life as an adventure centre, after the historic estate’s use as a hotel ceased.
As part of that revival, a series of outdoor adventure and activity equipment has been built by the new owners, Globerow Ltd.
However, Derbyshire Dales District Council found that the owner had built these in the grounds of Sir Richard Arkwright’s former stately home without planning permission, with the hotel to adventure centre use, approved in March 2022, effectively representing a conversion and change of use – with no new structures.
Planning inspector Elaine Gray has now published her decision, ruling that an enforcement notice served by the council on the castle owners in June last year – three months after the adventure centre approval – is largely upheld.
Ms Gray does write that some elements of what the new owners have built do not represent structures which require planning permission, such as a series of poles and tyres, a climbing and rope walking structure, and a number of pieces of climbing apparatus.
Meanwhile, two timber “landing stages” to facilitate visitors boarding kayaks or canoes on the River Derwent are allowed to remain because they are “fairly unobtrusive”, despite representing “introduced development to the riverside where none previously existed”.
Ms Gray writes in her decision report that the castle owners will have to remove several structures which she said did require planning permission and which were built without it.
This includes three separate ranges for air rifles, archery and axe-throwing, along with two climbing and assault-course style structures, all of which must be removed from the grounds of the 231-year-old stately home within two months of her decision, dated February 27.
Ms Gray details that the stately home and its estate, built in 1792, represent a “significant” part of the “outstanding universal value” of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, to which Sir Richard contributed so heavily.
She writes: “The design of the landscape emphasises the natural elements such as the river, the trees and the form of the land.
“These elements complement the listed building and provide a fitting setting.
“The development introduces structures that add visual clutter, and detract from the natural elements, which should be to the fore in views to or from the listed building, or when moving through the designed parkland.
“The fact that they are predominantly of timber helps to a degree to integrate the structures. Nonetheless, they do not have an obvious functional or visual relationship to the design intent of the registered park and gardens.
“They are not the type of structure that would typically be found in a designed landscape of this historic era.
“Crucially, they disrupt the close visual relationship between the former house and its landscape setting.
“On that basis, these structures harm the setting of the listed building, eroding its significance, and in turn, the significance of the registered park and gardens, the conservation area, and the world heritage site.
“The appellant explains that the structures in question are required to facilitate the adventure element of the activity centre use.
“I have no doubt that the grounds of the castle provide opportunities for a wide range of pursuits and adventure due to their extent and layout.
“However, this needs to be balanced against the need to protect the significance of the heritage assets.
“It is clearly of benefit to have the listed building in use, and the centre also offers opportunities for its visitors to experience and appreciate the heritage assets.
“I acknowledge these factors and also the need for the apparatus in terms of the facilities the centre offers.
“However, there is no evidence that these outcomes could not have been achieved through a scheme of development that would be more sympathetic to the heritage assets.”
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