West Mersea Neighbourhood Plan

Ended on the 3 September 2021
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11 Tourism

- To ensure where tourism is encouraged it respects the character of the rural countryside, coastal character and natural habitat.
16 - To support existing and new tourist facilities and leisure developments which benefit the island's economy and employment and are not contrary to the well-being of the island's residents.

11.1 Mersea Island is divided into two parishes – East and West Mersea. From a tourism perspective, each community enhances what the other has to offer and are complementary to each other. Whilst this Neighbourhood Plan is specifically in respect of West Mersea, East Mersea is equally impacted by tourism planning policies. There is an Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation between West Mersea Town Council and East Mersea Parish Council in respect of tourism issues. (See Appendix 4)

11.2 Tourism plays an important role in the economy of the Island and West Mersea in particular. West Mersea's population quoted in the 2011 census was 7,326. Tourism increases this number in varying degrees across this year. Depending on the time of the year mid to long term visitors occupying the 2,787 types of accommodation, as detailed below, can increase this number to over 13,000. Add day visitors and the number can easily rise to 20,000 exceeding the capacity of the island's 1000 public car parking spaces and any other suitable permitted roadside parking.

11.3 There are a number of facilities catering solely for visitors, whether they are day visitors or staying in holiday accommodation. The current provision is illustrated in the table below. The demand is primarily seasonal although some holiday homes are occupied for much of the year. Demand for additional facilities could have an impact on the character of the Island as well as potentially causing harm to the international, European and national wildlife designations. There needs to be a careful balance between meeting the needs of residents, improving the sustainability of the local economy and ensuring that the wildlife designations and historic built environment is not compromised. In particular, there are a number of large mobile home sites around the coast of the Island, adjoining or in close proximity to the international, European and national wildlife sites. Without careful management of development on the mobile home sites, there could be significant recreational disturbance on the protected designations.

Current levels of tourist accommodation

Type and quantity of tourist accommodation
Type of Accommodation Quantity
Static Caravans and lodges 1,905
Touring and camping pitches 613
Bed and Breakfast 5
Self-catering cottages 11
Holiday lets/second homes (2011 census) 251
Houseboat lets 2
Total units 2,787

There are some 600 Beach Huts on the Mersea Beach front which, it is believed, are sometimes used illegally for overnight stays.

11.4 In the event that proposals for visitor accommodation outside the West Mersea Settlement Boundary are acceptable, their occupancy will be limited by planning condition or legal agreement to ensure they're used for holiday use only and/or for certain parts of the year in order that they are not used for permanent or long-term residential accommodation.

Policy WM 23 - Tourism and Leisure Development

Development for new and extended visitor attractions and leisure facilities along with visitor accommodation (including hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, self-catering accommodation, touring caravans and camping sites and ancillary facilities) will be supported in suitable locations provided that proposals do not have a detrimental impact on the local landscape character, natural habitats, the amenity of residents and would not generate unacceptable levels of vehicular traffic on local roads.

Proposals for tourism and leisure development should:

  1. be appropriate in scale and function to the surrounding area;
  2. be accessible by a choice of means of transport; and
  3. not be contrary to the well-being of the Island residents and of people living and working nearby.

Proposals that are likely to have an adverse impact on the integrity of International, European or national wildlife sites and historic building environments will not be supported.

In locations where residential use would be inappropriate, developments of visitor accommodation will be limited by condition or legal agreement to holiday use only and/or certain periods of the year in order to prevent permanent or long-term occupation.


Caravan Parks

11.5 There are six caravan/holiday parks on Mersea Island; Firs Chase Caravan Park, Waldegraves Holiday Park, West Mersea Holiday Park (Seaview Caravan Park), Coopers Beach Holiday Park, Away Resorts Mersea Island Holiday Park (Cosways) and Fen Farm Caravan Site, catering for static and touring caravans and holiday lodges/chalets. For the sake of consistency of approach, the Borough Council is encouraged to take a consistent policy approach to the planning of caravan parks across Mersea Island.

11.6 Touring caravan sites, including camping also form part of the visitor economy of the Island and provide spin-offs through use of shops, pubs, restaurants and other facilities in the town. However, sites are generally located outside the Settlement Boundary and therefore have an impact on the countryside within which they sit. The potential for recreational disturbance on the international, European and national wildlife designations is also present and further increases in the number of pitches will not be supported unless matched by a reduction in static caravans or holiday lodges/chalets. However, it should be noted that touring caravans have far less impact on the Island's infrastructure, particularly medical facilities, than do long-term visitors in static caravans and holiday lodges/chalets.

11.7 While planning policies can manage tourism related development, it is important that the visitor economy is managed to ensure that the benefits it brings to the island are not at the cost of the historic and natural environment and residents day-to-day lives. The Town Council can play an important role in this and will take the lead in producing a Tourism Mitigation Strategy in conjunction with the local tourism representatives which will:

  • ensure that visitors to the Island feel welcome and enjoy all the attractions it has to offer.
  • support sustainable tourism and leisure developments that benefit local businesses because they contribute to the Island's economy and employment.
  • support further development of existing tourist facilities and the creation of new facilities and attractions only which conform to the policies of the Neighbourhood Plan.
  • ensure where tourism is encouraged it respects the character of the rural countryside, coastal landscape and natural habitat in accordance with the policies of the Neighbourhood Plan.
  • ensure that in all we aspire to achieve through tourism, the wellbeing of the Island's resident communities remain at the forefront of the Neighbourhood Plan Policies.
  • support the provision of a Water Bailiff to assist with the management of leisure facilities both on the Waterfront and the Esplanade beaches, on and off the water.

Policy WM 24 - Caravan Parks

Development proposals, including change of use, (with the exception of change to a standard dwelling C3 (a)), intensification of an existing use, or change in activities on the site, will only be supported at the existing caravan parks, as identified on the Policies Map, where the proposals:

  1. do not adversely impact on the environment, local businesses, or the health and wellbeing of the local community and their enjoyment of current facilities and services. For example: doctors, dentist, vehicular traffic, noise, light pollution.
  2. have adequate wastewater treatment and sewage infrastructure capacity to serve the caravan park and protect the EU designated coastal bathing water quality and help meet EU Water Framework Directive requirements designed and in operation before implementation/completion of the proposals/development.

Proposals in the Coastal Protection Belt will need to demonstrate how they meet the requirements of Policy ENV2 of the Colchester Local Plan.

Proposals will be limited by planning condition or legal agreement restricting them to holiday use only and/or certain periods of the year in order to prevent permanent or long-term occupation.

The removal of touring caravan/camping sites to be replaced with static caravan sites will not be supported.

Proposals for additional sites should be supported by a site-specific Flood Risk Assessment and Flood Management and Evacuation Plan. Proposals for additional caravans in flood zone 3 will not generally be supported due to the increased risk to people and property from coastal flooding.

Community Aspiration 4
Produce a mitigation strategy, conforming to Local Plan policies, to protect the residents' well-being and amenities, the environment and natural habitat from the adverse effects of growing visitor numbers, staff, suppliers and customers/clients.

Coastal Footpath

11.8 A 13½ mile footpath around the island is popular with ramblers while many walk various sections of it from West Mersea. The ongoing replacement due to erosion and enhancement of the path is a high priority in order to provide opportunities for residents and visitors managed opportunities for access to the countryside without detriment to the natural environment.

(1) Policy WM 25 - The Coastal Footpath

Proposals that enable and contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of the Coastal Footpath around the Island, as identified on the Policies Map, will be supported.

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