Thornbridge Hall: Unauthorised café, car park and drive at Peak District stately home can stay 'because of public loos'

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A tycoon who built a cafe and car park at her stately home with ‘blatant disregard’ for planning rules has been told they can stay because the cafe has loos.

Emma Harrison has won her fight to keep the unauthorised developments - including a half-mile long road - at Grade II-listed Thornbridge Hall in the Peak District.

The Peak Park Authority had ordered them all to be torn out after they were installed when its offices were closed during lockdown. But Ms Harrison appealed and planning inspector, D Boffin, has found in her favour stating that the public, social and economic benefits outweighed harm to the environment, listed buildings or ‘scenic beauty’.

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The inspector wrote: ‘The increase in opportunities for the general public, the various community groups, schools and other organisations to experience the Hall and its grounds have, in my judgement, followed from the development.

‘This reveals the significance of the heritage assets to a much wider audience than prior to the development taking place. That public access also has social benefits by supporting the communities’ health and social well-being. Several third parties have provided oral and written evidence of how the access to the facilities and gardens within the site has aided their physical and mental health.

‘The café building and the toilet facilities within it are available to users of the public right of way and the Monsal Trail. This results in social benefits. New jobs have been created by the additional opening hours and the dedicated café building’.

The inspector concluded: ‘While I understand that my decision will be disappointing for some local residents, the information before me does not lead me to conclude that these other matters, either individually or cumulatively, would be an over-riding issue warranting dismissal of the appeal’.

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Mrs Harrison - who made a fortune as boss of employment firm A4e in Sheffield - lives at the hall with husband Jim who is boss of Thornbridge Brewery which has several pubs in Sheffield.

She claimed the unauthorised works went ahead without permission because the Peak District National Park Authority ‘barricaded’ its offices during the pandemic.

The Peak Park refused to give retrospective planning permission and ordered them all to be ripped out. The Harrisons appealed and a planning inquiry was held last year.

Kate Olley, a barrister representing the authority, told it the driveway was “exceptionally poorly constructed”, up to 40 mature trees had ‘most likely’ been damaged, and the Quackers cafe and car park showed ‘evidence of commercialism and a blatant disregard for local planning approval’.

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She added: “This should not be allowed to stand - if this violation is not stopped and reversed Thornbridge Hall can take its place among so many important places of English heritage that are in danger of degradation and loss.”

There were also concerns approving the project could set a precendent that would be followed by other stately home owners seeking to make money.

In the Harrisons’ defence Rebecca Weller, who grew up on the estate when it was owned by Sheffield City Council said it had been transformed, rebuilt and repaired and was now accessible for the public to enjoy.

The Harrisons have pledged to pay up to £200,000, to fund a conservation plan at the site.

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