BY LAURA CONNOR
Lightwater Valley is facing crunch time after lodging a planning application to build resort facilities in an effort to ward off closure.
The North Stainley theme park has applied to build 106 holiday units with outdoor sport facilities on the site after a similar development was thrown out by Harrogate Borough Council in 2008.
Lightwater Valley’s director and general manager Mark Bainbridge said getting the application approved is crucial for the future of the park.
“This year has been horrendous for outdoor attractions, especially those like Lightwater without accommodation,” said Mr Bainbridge. “This year we are 12 per cent down on profits, which is the equivalent of 40,000 visitors. We can’t sustain another two years in this kind of business.”
Mr Bainbridge added: “Now we are feeling the pressure and it’s getting harder and harder. We do need to change there is no doubt about that. We have spent £18million on the theme park over the last 10 years but it’s not led to an increase in visitors.”
The theme park’s latest application has been significantly reduced, proposing 234 fewer accommodation units than the original 204 caravans and 136 lodges put forward four years ago.
The original application was refused, despite an appeal by Lightwater Valley Attractions Ltd to overturn the council’s decision.
The council ruled the 18-hectare site was in an isolated and unsustainable location in open countryside and would be visually intrusive – going against Government guidance and the council’s own policy.
Mr Bainbridge said: “By reducing the number of units I think we have alleviated a lot of worries.”
He argued that overnight accommodation was an essential asset to the sustainability of a theme park.
“At the end of the day, the theme park model has changed vastly. Unfortunately, all of our competitors have now gone into accommodation and several of them that didn’t are no longer in existence.”
Local businesses have pledged support for the project, arguing it will boost tourism and trade in the area.
In a letter to Mr Bainbridge, Black Sheep brewery boss Rob Theakston said: “It will be particularly valuable to have such a facility operating 10 months of the year which will encourage visitors during the quieter seasons. The overall impact on job creation for the local communities would be highly beneficial.”
The Greater Ripon Improvement Partnership (GRIP) also voted in favour of the application at a board meeting last month.
GRIP chairman Judith Donovan told the Gazette: “Lightwater Valley is a very important attraction and we want it to succeed. We think accommodation at the park will help Ripon’s nightime economy and create a livelier Ripon in the evenings. It will also attract more families if there is accommodation.”
Welcome to Yorkshire, various tenants in the Lightwater Country Shopping Village next door to the park and Newby Hall also offered support for the new facilities.
Newby Hall administrator Stuart Gill wrote to Mr Bainbridge, saying Newby Hall “looks forward to strengthening our relationship with Lightwater and the new holiday lodges for the benefit of our own business and the local economy”.
The 2008 application also gained widespread support, with more than 10,000 members of the public signing an online petition – but planners maintained the development was unsustainable, despite acknowledging its economic advantages.