Dinosaur park gets green light for South Woodham Ferrers

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Plans for dinosaurs at a popular South Woodham Ferrers attraction have been approved – despite concerns over traffic levels.

The attraction at Marsh Farm is set to feature some of the most iconic dinosaurs including stegosaurus and velociraptor.

The scheme is being marketed in part as a useful tool for schools and children’s learning.

Marsh Farm owner James Sinclair and his Partyman company, which took over the 50-acre site in 2013, say the dinosaur-based attraction will form part of children’s educational experience at Marsh Farm, providing both “recreational and educational opportunities within a themed environment”.

He also has said the attraction will help schools within Key Stage 1 and 2 to encourage learning to include fossil hunts, dinosaur jigsaws and bone puzzles.

But there were concerns the new attraction – to feature 15 replica dinosaurs and a theatre hall – will disrupt traffic along main arteries in the town.

Figures on its website say visitor numbers are around 250,000 a year. Prior to COVID more than 4,000 primary school children visited the site annually as part of school trips.

South Woodham Ferrers town council had objected to the plans over traffic concerns given likely increases in visitor numbers and an extra 40,000 vehicles a year.

In its formal representation to the plans it said: “This application for change of use is designed by the applicant’s own figures to attract a further 40,000 vehicles a year and thereby increase disruption to the local residents. Councillors already get complaints regarding the difficulty of driving out of the roads into Inchbonnie Road between Marsh Farm Road and Ferrers Road.

“The noise generated by the site will increase.

“We do not believe the purpose of the change of use is educational but to increase footfall and therefore extra business to the other businesses on the site.”

Chelmsford city councillor Malcolm Sismey (Cons. South Woodham – Chetwood and Collingwood) told the planning committee on January 11: “Since James Sinclair took over operation of this site the council has received a large number of planning applications – many of them retrospective.

“The effect of these applications is the nature of the business has changed from an educational-oriented open farm to a large scale retail and leisure operation.

“The problem is the site is unsuitable for the nature and scale of the business that is now conducted.”

However, planning committee member Councillor Eleanor Sampson (Lib Dem, Waterhouse Farm) said: “Given that this is a part of the site that already exists and officers are happy with the parking and highways part, I just don’t see any reason why we would refuse this.

“People seem to be talking about an increase in numbers and dealing with a business that is probably definitely the aim. And as long as it can done with the parking and traffic restrictions, overall that is a positive development for the area.”

Mr Sinclair told the committee: “The application for a dinosaur-based attraction allows us to move back to the educational roots of Marsh Farm supporting the national education curriculum of which dinosaurs are a part.

“The dinosaur educational attraction is not a standalone attraction but very much an integral part of Marsh Farm.

“There will be no change in the overall of use or character of the site as a farm attraction.”

The plans were approved 10 to one with two abstentions.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter