Hamsterley future plans

Updated 9th August 2022

Forestry England manages the nation’s forests to be sustainable and resilient providing benefits for people, nature and the economy: nationally, regionally and locally. We constantly review the forests to see how those benefits could improve. 

Hamsterley Forest has become more popular and while this connects more people with the nation’s forests, benefits the rural economy and the wildlife is safeguarded, our ageing facilities are under strain. We have plans to make improvements to benefit all our visitors and forest users, such as increased café space and catering facilities, improved toilets, meeting and classroom space for schools and groups, provision of exhilarating ‘Go Ape’ outdoor activities, exciting opportunities for cyclists visiting the forest and fit-for-purpose office accommodation for our staff based in Hamsterley Forest. 

In further developing our people, nature, economy offer the potential for an overnight accommodation offer within the Forest, located close to the existing visitor infrastructure has been assessed and approved internally in accordance with Forestry England policy guidance. 

We have begun discussions with Forest Holidays, who are one of our long-term partners, to explore options for a site with up to 70 environmentally sensitive cabins. In the last 50 years, we have created 8 sensitively-placed cabin sites in forests we care for. 

What stage is it at?

Updated 9 August 2022

To ensure the project is adequately resourced, Forestry England will be recruiting two new roles at Hamsterley – a Project Manager and a Project Officer. The post holders will support the further development of the project design and, subject to planning approval, the implementation of the exciting Hamsterley Masterplan Development Project.  

Plans for the new Visitor Centre are evolving, developing fit for purpose and modern facilities with sustainability at the core of our designs. Internal reviews are underway to refine these designs and layouts before aiming to share these plans and enter into consultation with stakeholders and local forest users later this year. 

Working with our long-term partners Adventure Forest, we are excited to include a ‘Go Ape’ outdoor activity offer, within the wider masterplan proposals. This will create greater opportunities for people to connect with and enjoy our forests and the detail will be fully assessed and considered as part of the forthcoming consultation and planning application.   

Forest Holidays proposals are also being refined with additional surveys and studies nearing completion in readiness for the planning process.  We continue to liaise with County Council planning officers and ecologist in support. 

Timeline of project to date

Time spent determining the studies and surveys required has helped us to further understand how to improve our delivery of service for people, nature and the economy. Our management of the nation’s forests has never been as relevant in responding to the current major political, societal and environmental issues of climate change, biodiversity decline and health and wellbeing, alongside recovery of the rural economy.  

Once we have collated the relevant data, it will allow us to further refine our current thoughts and ideas, with the aim of creating a Masterplan for Hamsterley Forest.  

The Forestry England Board agreed to approve to grant the option for a lease to Forest Holidays on 4 February 2021. The Forestry Minister has agreed to this granting of an option to lease. 

Forest Holidays have up to 3 years to carry out the relevant survey work to inform and work up detailed plans for consultation. Early surveys completed by Forest Holidays informed their opinion as to whether they would wish to take up any offer of an option to lease. 

When will I be consulted?

Once we have the relevant detail completed within our masterplan, we plan to consult with the County Council by Autumn 2022 in their formal pre-application process to inform the timing of further engagement and public consultation and inform our planning application approach. Once we have engaged with the County Council we intend to refine the proposals and then arrange a number of exhibition events to further inform the public of the detail of the proposals. We hope to undertake this in the Autumn - Winter, subject to the timing and outcome of the pre-application engagement.

All development plans would be subject to planning consents and public consultation so you will have the chance to give your thoughts and opinions when relevant information is ready to share.

Current activity on site

Surveys

PLEASE NOTE: There should be no effect on forest users whilst survey work is carried out. The work is being carried out by contractors and Forestry England staff.

Ecology

Our specialist staff have undertaken further ecological survey work, with and alongside consultants in various areas of the forest. A number of surveys are complete but further aquatic ecology surveys will continue through the summer and into autumn.  

Topography

Additional topographical surveys have been carried out to allow us to understand accurately the natural and manmade features of the forest in three dimensions.

Traffic

We will be conducting further traffic surveys following ongoing discussions with the local Parish Councils.

Our new forest access road has been open since November 2020 and the previous route past the café and offices is closed to visitor traffic, which is a great improvement to visitor safety. We also took the opportunity to acquire land to facilitate resilient and sustainable access provision in line with our future business needs.

Our ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system has been operational since April 2019 and we analyse the data it produces in terms of volumes, frequencies and times of visits.  This helps us to understand how traffic behaves so we can look to improve, or assist in improving, vehicle access within and around the forest.

 

We’ll continue to provide updates at the relevant stages of the process.  

Read more information about our partnership with Forest Holidays

Enquiries can be directed to FuturePlans.Hamsterley@forestryengland.uk