Council approves plans for rural school to be turned into tourist accommodation
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
A Conwy Valley school will be converted into holiday accommodation following council backing for the plans, despite concern from residents.
Applicant Sir Richard Williams Bulkeley applied to Conwy County Council’s planning committee, seeking permission to convert the former Ysgol Rowen building into a three-bedroom holiday let.
Councillors voted 11-two in favour of the conversion of the primary school on Buckley Mill Road, despite 33 letters of objection from residents.
Residents and local councillors on Caerhun Community Council objected to the plans complaining of an excessive amount of holiday accommodation in the village.
Instead, the community council wanted the building to be used for affordable housing.
Other concerns included the impact of empty properties on the vibrancy of the community; a shortage of housing for local people; young people being priced out of the market, and the development not being beneficial to the village.
There were also highway concerns.
Rowen resident Miss Catherine Hart spoke at the meeting against the plans.
“The application is the conversion to a holiday let; however, Rowen already contributes more than its fair share of properties to tourism,” she said.
“A cursory count shows that potential holiday bed spaces are already over 180. That plus caravans and campers and second home users is unsustainable.
“Allowing more holiday lets in such a rural village draws staying visitors further away from the tourist honey pots, resulting in more, not less, car users.
“When the applicant took the property off the local authority, it had been well looked after; it has since deteriorated into a state of neglect. So clearly something has to be done. But is this scheme the right outcome for it?
“Taking into proper account valid local objections and new national legislation, which completely changes the criteria for holiday letting, the answer is a definite no.”
She added: “Highway safety is a separate and serious issue, giving ground for refusal. Local objection letters have highlighted the risks. It was even of concern, reported in the press more than 20 years ago, when the school was open.
“Non-local vehicular traffic has increased considerably since, as have walkers, cyclists, and horse riders. Attempting to turn in the carriageway as suggested is ridiculous; however, if you consider this unimportant and the dangers can be ignored, then there are several other options for the property.
“The application skirts around social and housing policies and provision for housing needs for minor villages. Therefore, if it is suitable to be made available for a holiday let for the necessary 252 days a year, then it is equally suitable to be inhabited 365 days a year.
“So can you condemn this building to a future of being exploited with a holiday let restriction for yet another absentee owner, of no benefit to the community, or will you refuse this one to allow the applicant to go back to the drawing board and make a fresh application for a practical and sensible scheme?”
Local development plan
But speaking on behalf of the applicant, agent Jamie Bradshaw said the council’s own local development plan stated that empty rural properties should at first be put to commercial use before being converted into housing.
He also claimed that the proposed parking provision provided by a ‘pull-in bay’ offered a good level of visibility.
He said to councillors: “All in all the proposal is fully supported by your highways and planning officers after detailed consideration, and there is no sound basis for departing from their professional and considered advice.
“You should carefully weigh up providing a sustainable use for a building of local historic interest that has been vacant for some time.”
Cllr Nigel Smith proposed that councillors backed the plans.
“Very interesting that Mr Bradshaw has also picked up that our LDP is failing our rural communities,” he said.
“But I am mindful that we have to look at the application that is in front of us. It does provide two off-road parking spaces. It fits with policy that states that conversion of holiday accommodation, such as this, can reduce pressures on rural homes, and it would do.
“This property has been empty for six years, so we need to do something with it.
“It also fits with policies and sustainable rural communities. It ticks many boxes for me. Any pressure we can take off rural housing is a benefit.”
Cllr Andrew Wood seconded the proposal.
He said: “I understand what the lady from Rowen said but also what our duty solicitor has also told us as well that the officers have got no issue with the application.”
The committee backed the application.
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