Go ahead for Climbing Wall in Peterborough’s Ferry Meadows parkland

Plans to build a 34.25 metre tall Climbing Wall in Peterborough’s Ferry Meadows have been given the go ahead.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 8:12 pm
An image of the proposed Climbing Walls planned for Nene Park.

Peterborough City Council’s planning and environmental protection committee voted by 10 votes to one to approve the proposal for an Olympic-grade Climbing Wall and associated activity centre.

The decision came after a three-and-a-half hours debate during which councillors were told the new facility planned by Nene Park Trust would generate £2 million a year for the city’s economy and attract 100,000 visitors a year to a park that already has two million visitors annually.

The Climbing Wall and centre, together known as the Lakeside Activity Centre, will be built on the current 130 space car park at Ferry Meadows near Gunwade Lake.

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Matthew Bradbury, chief executive of Nene Park Trust. EMN-150107-175746009

The plans involve the construction of an indoor climbing centre with climbing walls housed in 34.25 metre tower with an indoor children’s play area, cafe plus a 225 space car park and the planting of 70 new trees.

While campaigners worried that the Climbing Wall would destroy a green oasis vital to the wellbeing of residents, harm wildlife and create more traffic congestion in nearby residential streets, supporters claimed the structure would be iconic, helping to attract people and businesses to the city as well as being an inspirational facility for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Plans for the Lakeside Activity Centre were first unveiled four years ago and during that time have generated hundreds of protests and at least two petitions.

But Nick Harding, the council’s director of development and control, warned councillors not to be swayed by the number of representations but to consider the application within planning policy.

Describing the Climbing Wall as having a ‘church-like’ appearance and of being a ‘substantial size, he said the structure would not have a significant impact on the area and would bring many benefits.

He said the centre would not have any significant impact on flooding, bats, trees, heritage or transport.

Councillor Christian Hogg said: “It will be built on a leaky 40 year old car park which is unusable when it rains.

“I think the height of the Climbing Wall will make it a striking structure that will help draw lots of people into our city.”

“It will put a jewel on top of the crown that is part of Peterborough.”

Councillor Nigel Simons said: “It would be an injustice for Peterborough not to support this.

“How often do we hear there is not enough for people to do in the city?”

Cllr Dennis Jones said: “The passion and the arguments against it were nearly making me say no to this.

“But I think on balance, Nene Park Trust has done enough that we should approve this and show that the city should progress.”

Backing the objectors, Cllr Amjad Iqbal said: “I’ve been very much swayed by the passionate objections raised by so many locals against this project.

“Ferry Meadows was put there as a green place for people to enjoy in peaceful contemplation forever.

“The objections made are not against the scheme in principle, but against the location of the facility.

“I simply don’t believe that we’ve exhausted every possible avenue in that respect.

“This scheme will totally ruin the original intentions of Ferry Meadows, and so I am minded to refuse the application.”

Councillors had earlier been told by Cllr Nicola Day, a representative of the Orton Waterville ward, which is home to the parkland: “This proposal has frightened large numbers of people who have lived near Ferry Meadows since it was created and hold its future very dear to their hearts.

“The overwhelming number of residents who live closer to the park in Orton Waterville and Orton Wistow and who, as a consequence, will suffer the most from it, object to the height of the building ruining the beautiful vistas, the increased parking and expected traffic from an expected 270-300 visitors per day, and the impact on wildlife and residential wellbeing.”

David Turnock, chairman of Peterborough Civic Society, said: “In almost every one of the categories of the report before us today there is some potential for harm; but that expected harm is said to be outweighed by the supposed benefits from the lakeside activities.

“While we appreciate the concept of the proposal and the potential to provide Peterborough with a world-class facility of this type, the substance of our objection is that while this is right kind of facility, the proposal is for it to be put in entirely the wrong location, with hardly any infrastructure for access by transport.”

Campaigner Andrea Lindley said objections had come from far and wide and proposal was for ‘an urban building in a rural country park’.

But for those who backed Nene Park Trust’s plans, the Climbing Wall represented the aspirations of a go-ahead and progressive city.

Entrepreneur Iain Forsythe, a director of the city’s economic development company Opportunity Peterborough, said: “If the growth of Peterborough is to be sustained we need to attract and retain quality employees, the teaching staff, those that we need to build a vibrant city.

“This will be a unique selling feature of the city.

He said: “If we’re to continue to promote the city of Peterborough, then we need facilities such as this, Olympic-ready unique features that will focus on the city attracting outsiders and people who already live here to see Peterborough as such.

“And if transport infrastructure is such an issue, then why don’t we use the building of this facility to encourage the city council to put electric ferries on the Nene and transport people to Lakeside which I believe could stand out as one of the main attractions for the future?”

Jackie Bland, chair designate of Nene Park Trust, said climbing was a hugely popular activity that was good for physical and mental health, and the proposed facilities were aimed at all sections of the community.

She said: “We’re not just plonking the Climbing Wall in Ferry Meadows but are widening our offer to the people of Peterborough.

“We know there is a need for a more exciting range of activities here.

She added: “It is Olympic standard because we want there to be no limit on people’s dreams.”

Mark Woods, chief executive of schools group, the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust, said: “The Climbing Wall will be a centre of excellence for young people to use and which will help inspire them.”

He said schools links with Nene Park Trust will allow them to enhance their offering to pupils with climbing included under PE as part of the curriculum offer.

After the meeting, Matthew Bradbury, chief executive of Nene Park Trust, said: “We are absolutely delighted by the decision of the planning committee.

“This marks the culmination of four years of consultation, planning, research and development work for our team here at Nene Park Trust that started when we launched our 2050 vision and Masterplan in 2017.

“When the centre is open, it will also help us to continually improve the environmental, cultural and recreational offer for people throughout the 1,700 acres of Nene Park the Trust manages.”