Friday, October 23, 2009

Planning Glitch Comes Back to Bite Paulton's Park

Back in August, it was reported that the future of two popular rides at Paulton's Park was in jeopardy due to an apparent misunderstanding of development rights. Cobra, a Gerstlauer custom Bobsled Coaster built in 2006, and Edge, a Zamperla Disk'O which made its debut in 2009, were constructed in an area on the periphery of the park which is designated "country park" as opposed to "amusement park". This designation dictates that planning permission must be obtained prior to moving forward with any proposed construction projects, but the owners of Paulton's Park never sought this permission.

When the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) caught wind of this snafu, representatives approached Paulton's and requested that the park apply for a Lawful Development Certificate which would essentially grant the park retroactive permission to continue operating the two rides. The park complied, and initially it appeared that the application would be granted and the entire situation would blow over without incident. However, despite the support of both NPA planning officers and representatives from the local tourism industry, the planning committee rejected the application this week in a 7-5 vote, leaving a big question mark on the fate of Cobra and Edge. If Paulton's is unable to successfully appeal the NPA's decision, it will be left with no choice but to tear them down.

It appears the committee was swayed by the objections of a small percentage of local residents who complained about (what else?) increased noise and traffic and expressed concerns about maintaining the integrity of this historically rural area. However, their opinions are not shared by many members of the New Forest business and tourism community, who feel that the NPA's decision was irresponsible and could ultimately put a real hit on the local economy. I daresay the objectors' opinions aren't shared by park patrons or the enthusiast community, either. Cobra and Edge are arguably the most thrilling rides at Paulton's. And to die so young! You can kiss that ROI goodbye if you build a ride one year but you're forced to tear it down the next.

Paulton's directors have refrained from engaging in any public speculation at this point, other than to say that they are reviewing their options. Things certainly aren't looking good, but let's hope this dark cloud has a silver lining.