Whichford retreat couple want to heal the village

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Andy and Sally Birtwell pictured in 2013.

Villagers in Whichford are rallying to support the owners of a local campsite and holistic retreat who are fighting to prevent its closure.

Sally and Andy Birtwell, who run the Holycombe Holistic Retreat Centre in the village, have been told by Stratford-on-Avon District Council that the business must close as there is no planning permission in place.

The retreat, which features a camping and glamping area and a holistic centre with holiday lets, has been operating since 2001 and an application for retrospective planning permission has been submitted to the District Council.

Over the years the business has become a popular holistic retreat offering therapies, hosting workshops and providing glamping facilities.

Many villagers have rushed to support the campsite owners, urging the council to withdraw or suspend any enforcement notice until after the planning application has been considered.

The owners claim the holistic centre and the campsite was given legitimate planning permission in 2013 only for that permission to be withdrawn due to minor errors by Stratford District Council.

More than 1,100 people have also signed an online petition in support of the business.

A spokesperson for Stratford District Council said: “An Enforcement Notice was issued last week on this site and the District Council are in discussion with the owner, but not other comment will be made at this time, as this is a live case.”

Local business owners have written to the council in support of the application, explaining the benefits to the local economy of the campsite.

Mark Williams, owner of the nearby Norman Knight, pub wrote: “The impact on the Norman Knight, which relies in no small part on the trade from those staying and visiting Holycombe, would be significant if it were closed down.

“I estimate that during the winter they provide up to 70% of my business through their glamping customers and during the summer about 40%.”

Other neighbours say the owners have transformed the site since they took over, from a dump of rotting cars into a beautiful spot, in keeping with its surroundings.

Whilst the majority of comments on the application are supportive of the retreat, some residents are clearly unhappy about the continued operation of the business.

Among the complaints are those about noise and ‘unsightly buildings’.

However according to the business owners these issues have now largely been resolved.

Andy Birtwell said: “We have had mediation with the (objecting) neighbours and they have come up with a constructive plan which we are all in agreement with. It depends on a restrictive covenant on the future of the campsite, based on our own existing strict rules for how we run the campsite. The agreement will only be valid when Stratford District Council grant planning permission. This is a marvellous opportunity to put things right, and begin to heal the village. We are very positive about the outcome.

“We want to thank the mediator and our neighbours for making this compromise and for coming to an amicable agreement. Whatever has happened in the past, we want to put the past behind us and to move forward in friendship and understanding if possible.”