Campaigners celebrate as Center Parcs ditch plans to build village on ancient Sussex woodland

Centre Parcs announced today it would not build a 900 lodge forest village on ancient woodland in Sussex that is home to rare breeding birds and flowers.
Artist impression of what the village would have looked like Credit: Center Parcs

Conservationists are celebrating after Center Parcs made the surprise decision to scrap plans to build a 900 lodge holiday village in ancient woodland in Worth Forest, near Crawley.

Campaign groups including Sussex Wildlife Trust, the CPRE, RSPB, Woodland Trust and the Sussex Ornithological Society came together to fight proposals.

Along with local councillors they feared the plans for for the £350-400m village on a 553-acre swathe of Oldhouse Warren would ‘tear the heart out’ of irreplaceable ancient woodland.

Sussex Wildlife Trust said it was "over the moon" and "thrilled" that Center Parcs had "done the right thing."

Jess Price, Conservation Officer at Sussex Wildlife Trust said: "Center Parcs has realised that Oldhouse Warren, a fantastic ancient woodland, is the wrong place for their next development.

"We have worked hard with others to campaign against the plan and convince Center Parcs of the devastating damage that a development of this scale would do to wildlife and people.

"Oldhouse Warren is irreplaceable and a very special part of the High Weald AONB. Development here would make a mockery of the Government’s commitments to address climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

"We knew it was the wrong location from the start and want to thank all of our members and supporter who contacted Center Parcs and campaigned against this proposal. Working together, we have saved a very special part of Sussex, which is home to rare breeding birds such as Marsh Tit, Goshawk and Firecrest and wonderful woodland flowers such as Ivy Leaved Bellflower and Bog Pimpernel.’

The announcement came out of the blue this morning. While it would have created hundreds of jobs there was growing opposition- Crawley Borough Council had unanimously rejected the proposal.

A mass trespass was held last September and more than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for the site to be protected.

Jack Taylor, lead campaigner for the Woodland Trust, said: "Fantastic news today. It is why proper site assessments are needed in planning - and no shortcuts.

“The proposals would have been disastrous for wildlife and seen the loss of irreplaceable habitat. Oldhouse Warren is an exceptional 550-acre ancient woodland and a rare gem given that ancient woods now cover just 2.5% of the UK.

"While one look at existing datasets should be enough to indicate development shouldn't happen in precious spots such as Oldhouse Warren, this shows the importance of ecological experts undertaking site surveys to inform decisions about where development happens - the Government should take note in developing its proposals for new Environmental Outcomes Reports for development proposals." 

Center Parcs began looking at plans to develop the privately owned woodland in July 2021, but said after extensive site surveys it had decided Oldhouse Warren was not a suitable location for a new village.

Colin McKinlay, CEO, said: “We have always been committed to only building our villages in areas where we can improve the biodiversity of the site.

Whilst it is obviously disappointing that we will not be able to bring Center Parcs to this part of West Sussex, this decision demonstrates how seriously we take our responsibility to the

environment, as well as our ongoing commitment to enhancing the natural habitats in which our villages are located.

He added: "There is strong demand in the UK market for a sixth Center Parcs village and, with this in mind, we will continue our search for a suitable site.”