Fenland garden centre unveils 4* plans for holiday lodges
A Fenland farming family are hoping to introduce an exciting new development to their garden centre business while at the same time encouraging more tourism to the area.
Edward Gowler, whose family runs Skylark Garden Centre at Wimblington, has applied for planning permission to build 67 holiday lodges, a toilet block, a reception building with associated parking and landscaping, and extensions to the existing garden centre building and car park.
The lodges, which is the main part of the application, will provide 4* accommodation and they will be available both for rental and to buy.
Ed, who launched the garden centre back in 2003, explained the latest plans are a continuation of the diversification of the business that runs alongside the family's farm which is operated by his dad Robin and brother Chris.
The lodges will cash in on the site's natural abundance of nature and will sit nicely alongside the three fishing lakes that Skylark opened last summer.
Ed admits it is a massive financial investment and said the aim would be to build the lodges in phases to allow for the necessary capital to be generated.
The biggest hope, which is shared by Fenland District Council, who Ed said has given its support to the plans at the pre-application stage, is to encourage more tourism to the area.
Part of that aim will see Skylark joining forces with March-based Foxes Boats with the provision of moorings on the nearby Sixteen Foot Drain.
"There are not too many places for people using Foxes Boats to moor up, so we hope to provide that opportunity with people able to walk from the moorings through the woodland on the site to the garden centre, the café, maize maze and other attractions, which will benefit both our businesses," explained Ed.
The lodges will be glass at one end with a decking area overlooking the fishing lakes, with residents able to enjoy a spot of fishing on their own doorstep.
"The glass will take full advantage of the views over the lakes. We have purposefully chosen to use an arable field to build the lodges so we don't take away from the nature on the site. We wanted to retain all the trees and natural beauty," he said.
The venture, which has been over a year in the making before the application was submitted this week, will complement the existing activities on the site which include the maize maze, farmyard animals, playground and go-karts.
It is expected the project will generate at least 20 full-time equivalent jobs and Ed is hoping it will take advantage of the current demand for staycation holidays - although it will not be ready for this summer.
"People have questioned why people would want to come and stay here, but I think locals underestimate what we have on our doorsteps. There is a lot of nature, the big skies and of course bird watching and fishing. If you are in a city you don't have access to all those things we take for granted.
"I want the development to be first class and appeal to people looking for a short weekend break or a longer family holiday. It may be as the scheme develops that we will have to look at expanding the café and what we have to offer in terms of food - perhaps having a bar and meals in the evening," added Ed.
The proposal will make full use of the redundant cement works, which is home to the fishing lakes and woodland, and bring the neglected site into full use.
Ed said: "We opened the garden centre in 2003 and I'm sure if we had remained just a garden centre we would not still be here. We have developed what we have to offer and have become a premier family and visitor attraction.
"Events like our Halloween and Santa's Grotto have proved hugely successful and we hope to build on that as an attraction for the Cambridgeshire area and beyond.
"We pride ourselves on offering not the cheapest but good quality at a fair price, alongside a personal service and that is our USP.
"We are very excited by what we have planned and we hope that local people will support us."