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Gloucestershire Business News

Final go-ahead for eel farm

Despite ongoing opposition and a judicial review, a controversial bid first made in May 2019 to develop an eel farm, restaurant and associated housing on 14 acres of land at Lydney Harbour will finally move towards construction next month.

Plans for the £53m Severn-side redevelopment, originally submitted in May 2019 by Richard Cook, the owner of Chaxhill-based Severn and Wye Smokery Ltd, related to land belonging to his company Olsa Futures Ltd. 

The bid hit opposition on a number of areas, but a consultation from the Environment Agency now suggests that if certain conditions are met, it has no objection to the mutually delayed project proceeding.

And barring final paperwork now with Forest of Dean planners, an extension on decision-making has been agreed for September 29th. 

A council spokesman told Punchline: "Further information was requested from the applicants which has been received and is under review."

The ambitious plan involves removing buildings on the site (which Punchine understands are already demolished) and adding a fish-processing building of 20,600 square metres as well as an 8,000 square metres eel farm.

Alongside this, a 188-seat restaurant, café and visitor centre (totalling 2,000 sq metres) is intended, together with an energy centre (800 sq metres), storage building (500 sq metres), an amenity building for HGV (15 sq metres) and a generator substation.

On the basis of associated housing tied to employment generated from the project, three three-bedroom houses, eight one bedroom apartments, four two-bed apartments and 18 shared units of accommodation for seasonal staff are also set out, as well as two water treatment lagoons.

New pedestrian, cycle and vehicular accesses onto Harbour Road would also be necessitated by the project, as well as network of internal routes and parking areas for visitors, staff and HGVs.

Lydney Town Councillor Susan Holmes said: "Richard Cook came to give us a presentation during lockdown, quite a while ago. We were very dubious about what might become of the site. One issue that concerned the town was always that the accommodation is tied to the employment there.

The concern is that if housing is permitted what may follow. This is an historical site and, as the name suggests, its history is all about timber treatment; logs would be brought in by boat and then processed into plywood."

Historical timber work at the site focused on specialist ply for defence applications and the works even made ply for construction of the wings on the iconic WW2 De Havilland Mosquito fighter plane, as well as to construct the Allies' troop-carrying Horsa gliders.

A statement prepared by Sellwood Planning on behalf of Chaxhill-based Severn and Wye Smokery Ltd said the land, which is bounded by Harbour Road to the south, Lydney Industrial Estate to the west and Naas Lane to the east, was vital for the future of the business.

Selwood said: "The Severn and Wye Smokery was established by Richard Cook in 1989. Since that time, the business has been very successful and now has a turnover in excess of £50m per year with over 240 staff spread over premises in Chaxhill, Walmore Hill (Minsterworth), Salisbury and Grimsby. This split of the Severn and Wye operation over four sites is highly inefficient and imposes extra costs on the business. Whilst the headquarters of the business is at Chaxhill, this is working at full capacity and having to share the site with the hugely successful Barn Restaurant and shop."

To diversify the business, the statement said, Mr Cook wanted to "set up an Eel Farm which will rear eels both for human consumption and conservation re-stocking," and also "prepare more smoked meats, cheeses etc, which need premises separate from fish processing and could remain at Chaxhill."

As such, the proposal represented "an investment in the Forest of Dean economy running into the scores of millions of pounds which will secure the long term future of the Severn and Wye Smokery in the District as well as around 240 jobs."

Design for the buildings would aim for maximum energy efficiency, with roof-mounted solar panels for the processing building and the Eel Farm. Given the need for large amounts of water, "an important company objective is to clean and recycle as much water as possible. This includes the provision of two water treatment lagoons. These will use the same low carbon approach as the highly successful lagoon at the Chaxhill site."

Treated water would subsequently be discharged directly into the River Lyd while water from the eel farm would go to the Severn Trent sewer.

"It is proposed to make the application site a tourist destination in its own right which will assist in the achievement of the Council's aim to rejuvenate Lydney Harbour area. To this end, the application proposes a quality of design, materials and finish which is much higher than would normally be expected from an industrial redevelopment."

Lydney Deputy Mayor Roger Holmes said: "That part of Lydney was never designated for housing and our concern has been that given the riverside attractive location, once housing is permitted, then the floodgates could be opened."

However, given undertakings from the applicant that the scheme's housing was tied to the business, the council reversed its initial objection.

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