"This is an exciting development that will contribute significantly to the well being and life experience of hundreds of disadvantaged and disabled people from across the region."
Joe Ridgeon, Hedley Planning Services
Plans for a new farm experience centre and lodge park in County Durham have been submitted for approval.
Under the proposals, a new barn building will be constructed on a site at Woodlands Park Farm in Knitsley near Consett along with up to 37 holiday lodges, many of which will accommodate families who have a family member with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Research indicates that people with special needs can benefit enormously from interacting with farm animals and the Woodlands Park Farm centre could develop into a much needed resource that will be enjoyed by people from across the UK.
Plans for the development, which could eventually involve a £5m investment, will see a 410 sq. m agricultural style barn building featuring chill/sensory rooms, an art and craft room, meeting rooms, indoor play areas, a café and accessible toilets, built to blend into the existing landscape.
Exterior areas will allow visitors to interact with farm animals while a petting area will feature small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. A nature trail through existing woodland is also proposed together with a car park for 50 spaces and a turning area for coaches to pick up/drop off.
One, two, three and four bedroomed accessible lodges, with dedicated car parking spaces, will be built to accommodate holiday visitors and equipped to provide improved accessibility for people with mobility issues.
A lodge for the project manager is also planned together with site landscaping, highways access and drainage features including ponds.
On the farm experience side an initial five full time jobs plus work experience roles for young adults with special needs will be created, with further opportunities available as the project evolves.
There will also be additional landscaping and maintenance jobs when the lodge park is completed, which could increase as the centre develops and the workload expands.
In England and Wales, 1 in 6 people have activity limiting health problems or disability, while across County Durham, an estimated 14% of pupils in the education system have special education and disability needs.
The new facility will also be able to cater for those living with mental health problems, dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including former armed services personnel.
Joe Ridgeon, director of North East planning consultants Hedley Planning Services, who has submitted the application to the local planning authority, said the development would offer a unique farm experience.
He said: “This is an exciting development that will contribute significantly to the well being and life experience of hundreds of disadvantaged and disabled people from across the region.
“As planners, we want to see the creation of exciting and rewarding schemes in the north east region that will leave a long-lasting legacy. Woodlands Park Farm will undoubtedly have a significant impact for years to come.”
Ian Adamson of Woodlands Park Farm said:“We are delighted that we have submitted a planning application to bring our dream one step closer to reality. We have a 12-year-old grandson with unique special needs, and have seen at first hand how his challenging behaviour can be modified by close contact with the animals on our farm.
“Our aim is to provide a quiet and restful environment, where families can enjoy the beautiful countryside we have in the Vale of Durham, no matter what the weather may bring.”
A planning decision is expected in August 2020.