Hamsterley future plans
Forestry England manages the nation’s forests to be sustainable and resilient providing benefits for people, wildlife and the economy: nationally and locally. We constantly review the forests to see how those benefits could improve.
Hamsterley Forest has become more popular and while this benefits the rural economy and the wildlife is safeguarded, the facilities are under strain. We have plans to make improvements to benefit all of our visitors and forest users, such as increased café space and catering facilities, improved toilets, meeting and classroom space for schools and groups, 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 eco-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?
We are at an early stage of the process. We expect to spend around 6 months (March 2021 onwards) developing our plans around Forestry England visitor facilities and upgrades to the site, which can then be shared for consultation.
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?
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
PLEASE NOTE: There should be no effect on forest users whilst survey work is carried out – although visitors to the forest are asked to respectfully keep their distance from surveyors in line with COVID-19 guidance. The work is being carried out by contractors and Forestry England staff.
Following on from the initial surveys that we were able to complete last year and earlier this year, and as restrictions continue to ease our specialist staff are currently undertaking further ecological survey work, with and alongside consultants in various areas of the forest.
Additional topographical surveys are being carried out to allow us to understand accurately the natural and manmade features of the forest in three dimensions.
We will be conducting further traffic surveys following ongoing discussions with the local Parish Councils.
We have now opened our new forest access road and closed the previous route past the café and offices to vehicles, which is a great improvement to visitor safety. We have also taken the opportunity to acquire land to facilitate resilient and sustainable access provision in line with our business needs going forward.
Unfortunately, we have had to temporarily close the car park for short periods at the peak of demand under the last year of lockdown restrictions. Things now appear to be slowly returning to what we might have expected previously at this time of year.
Our new ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system has been operational now for the last year and we are able to analyse the data it produces in terms of volumes, frequencies and times of visits. This is all to help us understand how traffic currently behaves so we can look to improve, or assist in improving, vehicle access within and around the forest.
We are currently determining what other studies and surveys are required 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 above data, it will allow us to further refine our current thoughts and ideas, with the aim of creating a Masterplan for Hamsterley Forest. Once we have enough detail, we plan to consult with the County Council in their formal pre-application process and further engage in public consultation, which is still some months away.
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