A plan to bolster a family-run tourist attraction for future generations in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has been approved after overcoming numerous concerns.
Cath Calvert, owner of Hazel Brow Visitor Centre, which has won national awards and Defra Demonstration Farm Status since it opened in Low Row, Swaledale in 1996, said she was delighted the scheme had won unqualified support from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
She co-launched the venture after realising visitors to the park were stopping to watch her family milk cows and clip sheep, so decided to turn the spectacle into something that would attract around 9,000 visitors a year.
After more than 20 years’ running the enterprise, it had been hoped to create hotel-style accommodation at the centre – which is best known for offering unusual activities such as alpaca trekking and sheep racing and continues to be a destination for school trips – as well as creating a craft barn for traditional skills workshops and course.
While maintaining the centre’s farming focus, the business aimed to create an underground nature observation room, concentrating on the natural environment and offering seasonal cultural and craft activities, based on the the farming calendar.
However, following neighbours claiming the proposals would create a building similar to a ski lodge and late-night disturbances, council bosses raising concerns over road safety and national park officers expressing landscape impact fears, Ms Calvert worked with planning officers to make the scheme acceptable.
She told the park authority’s planning committee she was preparing to hand the business on to her daughters.
Members heard the proposals aimed to to secure the future of the business and make the centre more user-friendly.
The plans include limited extra guest accommodation, improvements to both the inside and outside of the visitor centre and the creation of an open-plan ground floor area, featuring a cafe, play space and interpretation areas.
Ms Calvert said: “The family have always aimed to provide the best experience for visitors and we feel this is a great opportunity not only for the family, but for the tourism offer in the Dales and our local community, who with the exception of one or two, are very supportive of the proposal.”
Members said the visitor centre had proved a popular draw in the Dales and unanimously approved the scheme.
After the meeting, Ms Calvert said the immediate challenge for the centre, which in recent years was set back by a legal battle, would be to rebuild its funding package with the aim of launching a revamped business next year.
In the meantime, she said, activities such as alpaca trekking would continue, as would school trips. She said: “It has taken a while to get there and has been quite a tricky journey that has involved a lot of compromise.”