Why planning matters at Hobbledown

Hobbledown Epsom

A parent fought back tears as he told a Epsom and Ewell Borough Council’s planning committee he thought someone was going “to be injured or killed” as councillors approved a series of applications for a family attraction. Hobbledown Farm in Epsom made five planning applications to its local council, some for works that had already been carried out.

Councillors called the attraction “a great asset” to the borough but also voiced frustrations that applications were coming to them for things that had already been done.

When the applications were last brought to Epsom and Ewell Borough Council’s planning committee in October, councillors deferred their decision and asked Hobbledown representatives to come back with a flood assessment for the site.

The meeting heard council officers were “content” with answers that had come back on the flooding risk after two rounds of consultation with the Environment Agency and with the lead local flood flood authority. But as well as concerns around an increased risk of flooding for neighbours, the vice chair of Clarendon Park Residents’ Association spoke at the meeting on behalf of residents in the estate next to the farm.

Alex Duval had been told he could not speak on all five applications at once, and was not able to stay for the whole meeting because he needed to get his nine-year-old child home for bed. But speaking as part of the consideration on a new overflow car park, and before an item on lorry deliveries on McKenzie Way, which he said residents were “most worried about”, Mr Duval set out the issues.

He claimed his car had been nearly hit by a reversing lorry there recently and that a two metre high fence that had just been approved by councillors retrospectively meant lorries coming out could not see as they exited. Clearly emotional, he said: “I’ll just say it as it is: completely unacceptable. My son has had to go out into the road, I’m going to try not to be really upset about it, to go round lorries coming out from that site into oncoming traffic and it’s not acceptable. It is not acceptable for anyone living on Clarendon Park.”

He paused, saying he could not even read his prepared notes any more. Again having to cut short his speech and close to tears, the father said: “Some resident, or a resident’s child, is going to be injured or killed, when [deliveries] could have been controlled on the other side [of the site].”

Cllr Jan Mason (Residents’ Association, Ruxley) said she had been talking to residents who had raised concerns about lorries using the McKenzie way entrance. She had also previously said an application for a gas tank holder on the site was “an accident waiting to happen” though councillors were reminded that this would be a matter for the Health and Safety Executive and not for planning.

The planning applications put in for the site, which is in the green belt and next to Horton Country Park, were:

  • A retrospective application for timber and netting outdoor play structures, three bounce pillows and a lorikeet enclosure.
  • Putting in a new “shepherd’s hut” toilet block.
  • A retrospective application for timber fencing around the farm, the relocation of entrance gates and the installation of a gas tank holder.
  • A variation of a condition on previously granted planning permission to allow part of the site to be used for over-flow car parking at the busiest times.
  • A variation of a condition to let deliveries to the farm shop and cafe enter the site via McKenzie Way.

All the applications were approved, with the chair using a casting vote on a second attempt to approve the gas tank holder.

Councillors were told by officers that the fact applications were retrospective was not material consideration, despite many expressing their frustrations on them.

A representative for Hobbledown said management changes at the attraction had been made and they were working to “resolve any planning breaches at the site”. Bob Neville said meetings had been held between the applicant and senior planning officers at the council to try and respond to concerns.

He told the meeting: “We hold our hands up. There have been planning breaches that have occurred on the site. What we’re doing now is working pro-actively to resolve those issues going forward.”

After the overflow car park was approved, Cllr Mason was heard to say: “They’ve won again.”

Speaking on that item she had previously said: “We’re not Chessington World of Adventures. This is on a local nature reserve and I think we should remember that.”