Visitors to a Somerset beauty spot could continue to face heavy parking fines after “unwanted” changes to a parking lot were allowed to remain in place.
The East Quantoxhead Estate operates the Kilve Beach car park, providing access to one of the most popular unspoiled beaches on the west coast of Somerset.
The estate has made changes to the parking lot without a building permit, installing new ticket machines and a license plate recognition camera, which has led to many visitors being fined Â£ 100.
Somerset West and Taunton Council have now agreed to grant retrospective clearance for the changes – although many advisers argue it would ruin the region.
The parking lot, which is owned by the estate, is between Kilve Beach and St Mary’s Church in the village, located at the northern end of the Quantock Hills Area of ââOutstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
In addition to the new cash machines and the camera, the estate also expanded the parking lot using grassed areas, increasing the number of parking spaces from 48 to 67.
Bruce Eyley, vice chairman of Kilve Parish Council, told a virtual council planning committee meeting on Thursday morning (April 29) that the changes appeared to be designed to ‘trap’ visitors who stayed too long time.
He said: âThe unsubscribed work done by the estate has removed the edge protection which was funded by a grant from Natural England.
âThe parking lot extension was built without planning permission, consultation or investigation into the need for more parking spaces.
“The erection of a license plate recognition camera, on a mast with anti-climbing spikes, appears to have been positioned to trap unsuspecting visitors, with a high probability of penalties of Â£ 100.”
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Mr Eyley added that the erection of this camera had “resulted in a tirade of misery and anger” on social media – with many visitors leaving negative reviews on the beach’s TripAdvisor page.
The most recent review, published Tuesday, April 27, gave the beach a star out of five, saying: “It ruined our day and will tell everyone we know not to bother to come back.”
Jon Colvin of Colvin & Colvin Architects (representing the estate) said the parking lot will not be extended further and plans to asphalt part of the site have been scrapped.
He said: âA balance must be struck with on-site signs between sufficient notification of parking charges and any potential damage. [to the natural landscape]. “
Councilor Chris Morgan (whose site includes the parish of Quantock Vale) said: âMy grandparents and my father are buried in the church in Kilve, which makes me local.
âIt is very difficult at the moment to park in front of the church to enter the cemetery, because of all the cars parked there to avoid the Â£ 100 fine.
“The toilet, although locked, is still in use. At the back of the toilet, by the stream, people defecate and urinate – it’s really disgusting. Where does the parking money go?”
Councilor Roger Habgood traveled the entire length of the Somerset coast (including Kilve Beach) in October 2020 to raise funds for the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
He said, âIt worries me a lot because it completely changes the nature of the place.
“Some of my commando mates met me here when I walked all the way up the coast – they paid a Â£ 100 fine, and it was 2 a.m.”
Councilor Dixie Darch added, âIn an ideal world, I would like to see no signs, a box of honesty and the money going to the AONB or the National Trust. The current setup is horrible.
âI am very relieved that the parking lot is not being expanded as I am not sure that part of the Somerset coast can withstand an increase in the number of visitors.
Councilor Mark Lithgow, however, argued that there was no reason in the Town Planning Act for retrospective permission not to be granted.
He said: âI suspect that the people who oppose this have done it from an emotional rather than objective point of view. They are not changing the parking lot, they are improving it as is.
“It’s private parking, and it’s not for us to say how the owner should spend that money.”
A motion to refuse to authorize the changes was rejected by three votes to five, with two abstentions.
The committee then voted in favor of retrospective authorization by five votes to three (again with two abstentions), meaning the changes can stay in place.