PLANS for a £8.5million holiday and activity centre beside a reservoir have been rejected over fears wildlife could be put at risk.

Brett and Terence Wilkinson wanted to create an 81 pitch caravan site, 26 log cabins and a restaurant near Hurworth Burn Reservoir, Trimdon.

In a planning application to Durham County Council, it was said the development could create up to 56 jobs.

The council’s county planning committee met at County Hall on Tuesday and decided the tourism benefits would not outweigh harm to wildlife.

The Northern Echo:

PLAN REJECTED: Hurworth Burn Reservoir in Trimdon  Picture: GOOGLE

Members heard there were 48 public objection letters and opposition from Durham Wildlife Trust, Durham Bird Club and Teesmouth Bird Club. Natural England and the Environment Agency were against it as they did not have enough information.

The council’s tourism agency Visit County Durham was supportive.

Coun John Clare said: “This council wishes to see tourist development in the area and we would welcome this application but we’re a planning committee and the National Planning Policy Framework is absolutely clear that you can’t do that where there is significant ecological damage.

"It is quite clear from the report in front of us that it is deemed that the ecological damage, environmental damage and the landscape/visual appearance damage would be so great as to preclude this here.”

The reservoir was previously owned by Hartlepool Water and was bought by the applicants in 2014.

In a statement, the new owners argued the scheme would provide a 'unique opportunity to create a high quality tourism development in an area where jobs are needed' and improve the wider site for wildlife by providing a protected zone around the reservoir shore, locating buildings away from sensitive areas and providing seasonal caravan use to avoid impact on migratory birds.

Director of Harrison Pitt Architects Richard Wooldridge, who represented the applicants, said the scheme could boost County Durham’s economy by more than £750,000 a year.

He stressed that a request to allow watersports had been withdrawn following objections and only 13 per cent of the total site would be used.

He said: "The applicant’s ecologist has advised that the development is possible through careful management procedures and mitigation measures.”

Councillors heard there was a difference in opinion between the council and applicants over ecology reports, with developers willing to fund a new ecology assessment on the reservoir area.

Coun Charlie Kay, calling for the plans to be rejected, said: “I think the ecology case, in my humble (opinion), is overwhelming.”

He saw no benefit in a third opinion.

Planning officers said the scheme would have 'significant adverse impacts' on protected species and wider nature sites 'without any adequate mitigation or compensation and no overriding national interest to justify the development'.

Affected areas, they concluded, also covered the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast Special Protection Area, Ramsar site, National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

While Coun Liz Maddison called for the application to be put on hold to allow for more information on ecology, the motion was overruled by the planning committee.

The recommendation to refuse was carried by 11 votes with one abstention.