Horseworld's £5m expansion: Visitor centre funded by 90 new homes
ONE of Bristol's oldest charities is hoping to fund an ambitious new £5-million visitor centre by selling off green belt land for housing.
HorseWorld, which has its home close to Whitchurch village, has seen visitor numbers soar in recent years.
In order to cope with the growing demand it is hoping to build a visitor centre to expand the attraction.
The scheme includes new car parking and a new restaurant with views over the surrounding countryside.
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But in order to fund the ambitious project it is looking to sell off five acres of its land to developers.
The scheme, which includes mostly houses, would see about 90 new homes built on green belt land.
Bosses at the charity have been talking to planning bosses at Bath and North East Somerset Council, which is the planning authority for the area. If all goes to plan an application will go before the council next spring or early in the summer.
Although the charity has seen visitor numbers reach the 100,000 mark in recent years, making it one of the most popular attractions in the area, donations have been falling as a result of recession.
The expansion should mean that the charity, which cares for abandoned horses, would become financially stable. HorseWorld is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary and the plan is to mark the birthday with the expansion.
The charity said the popularity of the Whitchurch-based centre has meant at busy times such as school holidays people had been turned away.
HorseWorld owns 180 acres of land and the plans will include the new visitor centre, a covered equestrian training and display space, museum, and educational classroom area.
There are also plans for new car parks and improvements to the access road. A key part of the proposals would see large areas of green space being opened up to enable visitors to enjoy breathtaking views and see some 120 horses, ponies and donkeys in their natural environment.
A spokesman said: "Visitor numbers could comfortably rise to 134,000, which would generate enough income to replace the fall in donations - enough to secure its financial future. But the current visitor centre cannot grow.
"Having pursued all other funding avenues over a period of years, HorseWorld's only viable choice is to build a new visitor centre on the charity's land on the edge of Whitchurch.
"To fund the construction, HorseWorld also needs to secure planning permission to redevelop the site of its existing visitor centre with an anticipated 80 to 90 new homes, including the complete refurbishment of its listed buildings into homes. The capital raised through the development would finance the new centre."
The charity held a competition to find the best scheme, won by Bath- based architects Stubbs Rich, and the firm has drawn up early designs.
The RSPCA is supporting the project and Chief Inspector John Atkinson said: "When people see HorseWorld's rescue, rehab and rehoming work close up, they are often deeply moved. The proposed centre would allow visitors to get much closer to what this excellent charity does. In turn this would play an important role in educating people about responsible animal ownership, which we would expect to then lead to a reduction in neglect and mistreatment."
The charity plans to carry out a consultation with nearby residents before putting together its planning application.
The spokesman said: "As an important part of the community and the wider area we are very sensitive to neighbours' and friends' needs and wishes. So if we go ahead with a planning application for the housing and visitor centre – we will consult extensively and respectfully with those affected.
"We will carefully consider how we can design the proposals to benefit the local community and are very open-minded to the community helping shape our plans."