Multi-million pound plans for a caravan site, holiday lodges and leisure hub at Trimdon have been rejected over fears that wildlife could be put at risk.
The plans for land near Hurworth Burn Reservoir to accomodate a holiday and activity centre included 81 caravan pitches, 26 log cabins, a restaurant and a allowing non-motorised water sports.
According to documents submitted by the applicants, Brett and Terence Wilkinson, the project was expected to cost around £8.5million and create up to 56 jobs.
Durham County Council’s County Planning Committee were not convinced the tourism benefits would outweigh harm to wildlife.
The decision the refuse the application followed 48 letters of ojection and opposition from Durham Wildlife Trust, Durham Bird Club and Teesmouth Bird Club.
Despite support the council’s tourism agency, Visit County Durham, objections were also lodged by Natural England and the Environment Agency.
Coun John Clare said: “This council wishes to see tourist development in the area and we would welcome this application but we’re a planning committee.
“The National Planning Policy Framework is absolutely clear and it is quite clear from the report in front of us that it is deemed that the ecological damage, environmental damage and the landscape/visual appearance would be so great as to preclude this here.”
The reservoir was previously owned by Hartlepool Water and was bought by the applicants in 2014.
In a statement, the owners argued the scheme would provide a “unique opportunity to create a high quality tourism development in an area where jobs are needed” and improve the quality of the wider site for wildlife.
This included providing a ‘protected zone’ around the reservoir shore, locating buildings away from “sensitive” areas and providing seasonal caravan use to avoid impact on migratory birds.
Director of Harrison Pitt Architects, Richard Wooldridge, told the the development could boost County Durham’s economy by more than £750,000 per year.
He also stressed watersports had been removed from the application following objections.
He said: “The applicant’s ecologist has advised that the development is possible through careful management procedures and mitigation measures.”
The meeting heard there was a ‘difference in opinion’ between the council and applicants over ecology reports, with developers willing to fund a new ecology assessment on the reservoir area.
Coun Charlie Kay, calling for the plans to rejected, said he didn’t see any benefit in going to a third party.
He said: “I think the ecology case in my humble opinion is overwhelming.”
Coun Liz Maddison called for the application to be put on hold to allow for more information on ecology but was overruled by the committee.
The recommendation to refuse was carried by 11 votes with one abstention.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service