CONTROVERSIAL work to build holiday lodges near the Three Counties Showground in Malvern has not started, despite fears the project had begun.

After workmen were spotted at the site, residents feared that the construction of 40 holiday lodges at Langdale Wood had begun, two years on from the scheme receiving planning permission.

However, the Three Counties Showground’s interim CEO Stephen Rennie said this was not the case, and that work is instead being done to remove eight dead trees in the woodland.

He said: “We of course obtained planning permission back in 2018 for 40 lodges, but the work people are referring to is where we have identified eight dead trees.

“Work on the lodges has not started yet, obviously with Covid we haven’t had staff on, staff have been furloughed, so we are hoping it can be started by the end of next year.”

The plans were initially for 50 lodges to be built in the woods, located just a short distance from the showground, but a sustained campaign from local residents saw the application rejected.

However, a new application for 40 lodges was approved by Malvern Hills District Council’s Southern Area Planning Committee in 2018, something campaigners say would not have happened in the current administration.

Sharon Taylor, who set up the campaign to save Langdale Wood, said it would be a shame if it were lost.

She said: “We had a big campaign at the time of the application to save the woodland for the people of Malvern, and I was really disappointed when the new application was approved.

“I am just so disappointed the work will go ahead. We have got to look for a greener future and it is a shame as it is one of the few areas not owned by the Malvern Hills Trust and it isn’t in the Area of Natural Beauty either.”

Mrs Taylor said the current Independent Group in charge of Malvern Hills District Council would not have approved the plans, and that it was the campaign that encouraged her to become a town councillor.

At the time of the campaign, a petition against the first proposal received more than 1,200 signatures with critics arguing the plans would destroy the woodland, which is a popular spot for walking.

But the Three Counties Agricultural Society said there was a shortage of accommodation in the area and that the project would help to secure its financial future.

When the revised application was approved, members of the council’s Southern Area Planning Committee voted 11-6 to approve the proposal, leading to cries of “shame” from residents attending the meeting.

Current mayor of Malvern, Cllr Neil Morton, said he hopes part of the woodland will be kept open for walkers to enjoy. “Whilst I was disappointed with the decision, I accept it and recognise why it was made," he said.

“What I want is for us, the two councils, and the Three Counties to sit down and hopefully work out a way we can keep part of the woodland open to walkers.”

Mr Rennie said he was happy to discuss plans with the town council, adding: “There is a small part of the woodland which would be open and we have a 60-acre field next to the woodland so we would be happy to sit down with the mayor and discuss any future plans for that area.”