Ram-raiders and planning dispute add to golf firm's woes

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE businessman is battling not just council planners but determined thieves. Cambridge Golf and Conference Centre, at Hemingford Abbots, has been told its new £1.7million restaurant and bar is breaching planning rules and, to add to the pro

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE businessman is battling not just council planners but determined thieves.

Cambridge Golf and Conference Centre, at Hemingford Abbots, has been told its new £1.7million restaurant and bar is breaching planning rules and, to add to the problems, the business was ram raided last week.

The restaurant can under the scrutiny of district council planners as it was being used to host events not directly connected with its core sporting activities. This, they told him, was in breach of a condition of planning consent granted last year for the restaurant and golf academy improvement scheme.

It was a condition of the consent that "the café/bar areas and the retail areas shall be used solely in an ancillary capacity to the principal function of the premises as a golf centre and golf academy" and "for no other purpose without the prior written consent of the planning authority" because of policies about appropriate use in the countryside.


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Managing director Peter Durham - ironically, he is the current holder of The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business of the Year award, which is backed by Huntingdonshire District Council - said he had believed he was acting in accordance with the planning consent. If the conference centre and restaurant activities were to be restricted to golf-related activities, it would not make enough money and would have to close.

He told The Hunts Post: "We're flying, with business from all sorts of organisations, including the NHS, charities and local authorities - including HDC, until it pulled the plug."

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In the meantime, existing bookings, including Christmas parties, are safe, as Mr Durham's new planning applications, which are intended to deliver what he thought he already had - the ability to accept conference and meal bookings from anyone - are considered by the council.

HDC's enforcement policy is not to take action while a planning application is outstanding, unless there is a flagrant and harmful breach. But, because, it cannot be seen to be condoning an alleged breach, the council has had to move a number of planned events away from the venue, including last week's ground-breaking Great Digital Debate.

A further irony is that the restaurant is the only one in the district to have achieved a five-star from HDC's environmental health, Mr Durham said.

"But without the income from conferences the business is just not viable. And we do everything we can for the environment, including running a mini-coach to collect diners and deliver them home afterwards to save their using their cars and risking drink-driving."

But he could also do without the criminal fraternity, having been ram-raided last Friday. "The damage and theft could have been worse, but I could still have done without it," he said.

The ram-raiders struck at the Direct Golf pro-shop, which sells equipment, on Friday at 4.30am. They took golf clubs including Snake Eyes, Adams and Cleveland, valued at thousand of pounds.

Director Ian Cochrane said that, despite the golf shop's tight security, the break-in had not surprised him. "At this time of year, when money is even tighter than normal, stupid people might be tempted to do stupid things. This was a bumbling effort - a smash-and-grab and they didn't even get full sets of golf clubs.

"It was a fruitless task and they will get little money selling on incomplete golf sets. They would have got more money from a couple of hard days' labouring."

It is believed that the thieves used one car to smash through the reception of the shop and had two getaway cars. One of the cars was a silver Honda Civic that had been stolen from Bar Hill and another was found burned out in Buckden.

INFORMATION: Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 0845 4564564 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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