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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

When David Meets That Big Guy...

My regular blog-readers might remember an article I posted back in January about our “moving to Devon anniversary”, and my concerns about the local hotel, Highbullen (link via Tripadvisor) expanding into something completely inappropriate for this little village. I had a lot of feedback, especially from those of you who have visited me (and the village) and who enjoy my Devon Diary Blog

Well, the saga continues! 
(and apologies for this post being a long one - I have a lot to say! I suggest make a cup of tea or coffee, or fetch a glass of wine and sit back & read...)

Here’s a resume of that article… (link to full article below)

Highbullen is being redeveloped… Ninety-four timeshare lodges are to be built. James Hemming, the hotel's manager, according to a local newspaper, hopes that Highbullen will become ‘one of Devon's premier leisure destinations’.
The overall guest accommodation capacity is set to increase by 700%. What impact will this have on our narrow, unlit roads? What sort of impact will hundreds of people coming to use this enormous enterprise have on our tiny, quiet, rural, village? What will they do with themselves? …. drive out to the lovely beaches or explore Exmoor or the old Pannier markets at Barnstaple and South Molton? Note drive. There is no public transport in our village. There is the Tarka Line train, but the nearest stations are a good couple of miles away.
 It is difficult enough using the lanes in and out of Chittlehamholt as it is – most trips you have to reverse many yards because of oncoming traffic… and that is meeting just the occasional solitary car ... although no one will be able to reverse anyway if two tractors and an oil-delivery lorry completely gum everything up.”

The heart of Chittlehamholt
So what has changed these eight months later? Not a lot. The ninety-four lodges have been dropped to fifty-eight…. Ah, but there’s now also the prospect of an additional sixteen bedrooms being added to the hotel, so that’s still an expansion of seventy-four.

Keep in mind two important facts here:

One: there are less than ninety houses in the entire village.
Two: There are five lanes leading up to the Chittlehamholt Ridge and they look like this:

A couple are a bit wider in places, but not by much. There are very few passing bays, all the lanes are very steep with blind bends. If you meet a tractor or similar large vehicle – too bad if you are not very good at reversing, but don't worry - you are about to get a very quick lesson and a lot of practice!
Concerned about your car being scratched by the brambles in the hedges? 
If so, don’t come to Chittlehamholt.

Highbullen has stated that it intends to pay for some of the existing passing places on one of the approach lanes (the main one from South Molton, known as Newlands Hill) to be lengthened and a few new ones to be put in. That sounds reasonable doesn’t it?

Um, no, not when you look closer.
There’s not really any room to lengthen or add. Highbullen actually published in their planning application (which appeared on the North Devon Council website) that they had permission to remove the hedging and banks, and install these extra passing places from a farmer who owns some of the land alongside Newlands Hill. At a recent village public meeting (more about that in a minute) it emerged that this farmer has not given permission – and in fact has outright refused it! 

And if one (let’s say ‘over-enthusiastic speculation’) can sneak its way in to a very important document, how many others are lurking under the stones of Highbullen’s planning proposals like gobble-everything-up monsters, I wonder?

is Highbullen telling porky-pies?
I’ll leave you to decide.
I suppose to be fair about this I had better add that not everyone in the village, and immediate surrounding area, are against Highbullen’s proposals. (Though the 'fors' are very much in the minority - at a recent vote, four out of seventy-two).

Highbullen is a business, it needs to survive as a business. Management claims the expansion will lead to more employment, bring business to the area, and new life to the village.

So will it?

Initially, there might be business for local builders, but only temporarily, and there’s no guarantee they will be local. Ongoing, I suppose there will be food suppliers, maintenance needs and such, and as these will be holiday lodges (self-catering timeshare accommodation) people will want grocery supplies. Tesco/Sainsbury delivery vans one suspects. More traffic.
What about waiting staff and cleaners? We are a very small village. Most of the present employment at HB are students (a few are from the village) but this is temporary employment, not long-term, well-paid careers. And if you look carefully at the Highbullen wording it implies “employment for local residents within a seven mile radius”. 
Ah, not villagers then, but people living in the nearest town, South Molton, seven miles away. 

More traffic for these narrow roads that lead to Chittlehamholt...
going towards the Exeter Inn Pub
from the direction of Highbullen

just past the pub
Now turn around and go in the other direction....

This is probably the widest part of our Main Road
because its the entrance to the Village Hall and Community Shop
but you can clearly see where the grass verge has been cut back..
Highbullen's entrance gate is a little further on
behind the photographer (me)....

.... further on down here 
Can anyone answer this question? If HB intend to bring work for local people, how come they have developed an entire wing as staff accommodation? We are not stupid… These proposed jobs are designated for cheap temporary immigrant labour, not local people who expect decent wages!

And before anyone starts writing a strongly-worded “not in my back yard” type accusation let me put one thing straight here:

I am fond of Highbullen. Daughter Kathy and I stayed there when we were on Escape To The Country (BBC TV show which found us our home here in Chittlehamholt.) Husband Ron and I stayed there for the first two nights when we moved in. It is a lovely old country house hotel, full of character in superb grounds. The new owner (timeshare developer Frank Chapman) apparently bought it for his daughter  Susie Gowenlock  who, it is said, remembers splendid holidays at Highbullen in its heyday of being the place for celebs to relax in privacy and to play golf. Legend has it that Sir Laurence Olivier used to pretend to be a member of staff and serve drinks behind the bar. 
It seems Ms Gowenlock is so very fond of her memories that she’s quite happy to have its old-style country-house charm entirely destroyed by the addition of these timeshare holiday lodges being built on parts of the golf course and surrounding grounds. For the peace and quiet of its rural ambience to be distorted, and for the night skies around Highbullen and that end of the village  (there is no street lighting in Chittlehamholt)  to be lit up like a Christmas tree.

Night Over Highbullen
three views from one of the Chittlehamholt approach roads
photos by A. Villager

Incidentally most of us in the village have stated, over and over, that we are proud of Highbullen – it is as much a part of Chittlehamholt as our community shop, village hall, the Exeter Inn pub, and the village church… but we don’t want to stop being proud of it. Highbullen is a superb rural, peaceful – almost unique – Country House Hotel. Why is Frank Chapman wanting to destroy such a potential asset? Restore it to its former glory, market it with insight and imagination as a luxury, idyllic, private, rural retreat to those with money (and celeb status) who seek privacy, peace and quiet and somewhere to relax knowing they’ll get it. Chittlehamholt as a village,  if asked nicely I think, wouldn’t mob Johnny Depp or Tom Cruise or… well you get the point. 
(OK, I can't personally guarantee the Johnny Depp bit....)

Here's a quote to support my suggestion: " 1963 it [Highbullen] was bought by Hugh and Pam Neil who turned it in to a foodie destination that attracted some top names such as Delia Smith, who became a regular visitor in the seventies."

I wonder if I ought to contact Ms Smith to discover whether she's happy about Highbullen becoming a timeshare monster?

According to one newspaper when Mr Chapman bought the hotel he said :
' "It  [Highbullen] has obviously gone through a bad period ... and we'd like to restore it to its former glory. That will take some time because it's rundown but it's in such a beautiful spot and has so much potential."
Mr Chapman, who introduced the concept of Timeshares to the UK in 1976, said one of his main aims is to bring back locals, which in turn will help turn the hotel's fortunes around.
"There's a good local membership who've been very patient. We need to bring them back in and bring confidence in the hotel back to the community. There won't be false promises here," he said. '

Not doing a very  good job with building the confidence level is he? 

So why do I care about all this? The hotel is on the opposite side of the village to where I live, something like two miles away, but since I’ve moved here I have come to love Chittlehamholt and have made many new, very lovely friends. I have grown to appreciate the star-studded un-light-polluted night sky; the fresh, clean air and the slower pace of life. The only noise at night is the wind and the owls. Except for the nightmare of having to negotiate the traffic-jammed lanes if this enterprise goes ahead, Highbullen won’t affect me. So why am I writing all this?

Why? Because I dislike these rich millionaire businessmen who have absolutely no care or concern for anything or anyone outside their own profit-balance pockets. Because these sort of people trample all over the rest of us who do care.

I am writing this because I want to have my say. Highbullen is trying to bully this village and its residents. Saying things like: (not exact quotes just the gist…)

If it wasn’t for us the village would die.” … er no, HB was bankrupt before Mr Chapman bought it, and the village was doing quite nicely, thank you.

If this doesn’t succeed Highbullen will fail as a business and Frank Chapman will re-sell; probably to an oligarch who will fly in with his helicopter.” At least that solves the issue of the traffic in the lanes! I doubt one little oligarch’s private helicopter would be any more intrusive than the air-ambulance which flies over our back garden most days, or even the giant Chinook helicopters that regularly make a (very low altitude) appearance.

The Village has been blackmailed several times with words like: "Frank Chapman's put a lot of money into this venture, it'll be your fault if it fails."
As one villager eloquently put it at the last public meeting: "Why should Chittlehamholt bear the brunt of Frank Chapman's bad business errors of judgement?" If he's messed up by buying the wrong hotel in the wrong location for his timeshare dreams, that's not our problem is it?

The manager, James Hemming, referring to the issue of farmers not giving permission for the expansion of passing places on Newlands Hill (see above): “That got put into the draft planning application by mistake, it should have been deleted.” … If permission hadn’t been granted, why was it included in a draft in the first place?

Mr Hemming, has whinged (several times) that opportunity to talk about the initial plans were offered but: “no one came to talk to me.” He is quite right no one did (well, I think two residents who live adjacent to Highbullen did.) Why didn’t we? Because his offer was made at the very first public meeting – before any plans had been published.

I didn’t take the offer up (neither did anyone else, for presumably the same reason) because I had absolutely no idea what was being proposed! How can you discuss something when you don’t know what it is you are discussing? 
By the time the plans did come out there were several public meetings arranged - so why the need for private ones? When the villagers had their say about these plans at one of these meetings they voted four in favour and seventy-two against.

Isn't that sufficient feedback  for you Mr Hemming? Of course if you really want seventy-two of us coming to your office for a 'chat'...what, shall we say allow an hour each? Let's assume your working day is 9 a.m-5pm... Now my maths isn't wonderful, but I make that seventy-two people coming to see you would take up nine of your working days. 
 As in the story of The Monkey's Paw Mr H....

And this one really gets me angry: “There are a group of agitators in the village trying to stir up trouble.” No, there is a group of concerned villagers who are trying to stop a millionaire businessman who doesn’t live here, from turning our rural village into a lavish timeshare New Town. There is a big difference Mr Hemming! A very big difference – please stop insulting us in this manner! (I guess this article makes me one of the condemned agitators?)

There are several more such quotes, but you get the idea.
This last one, though from Mr Hemming really did take the biscuit for arrogance and outright patronisation: There’s no point in fighting us, we’ll go to appeal and you won’t stand a chance of defeating it.
 Maybe not – but we’ll bloomin’ well at least try mate!

One way we can do so is bring in a professional consultant.
They cost money.

How is a small village with less than ninety houses going to raise the money to get someone like this to help us? We probably can’t... which is what these pompous property developers like Mr Chapman bank on, of course.
 Again, though we are going to try!

We have the consultant, we already have half his fee pledged. We need the other half.
I’m not asking for money, but if you would like to help fling a few stones at Goliath, and would like to help keep a little bit of Devon as it should be kept, then even £1 would help us.

Email me and I’ll send details.

For reward, if you ever visit Chittlehamholt I’ll try my best to treat you to a coffee in the Coffee Corner of the Village Shop. Or a pint of cider in the pub … 
or (maybe) a G & T in one of Highbullen’s luxury bars? (I can't guarantee a Laurence Olivier look-alike barman though, darling!)... (nor Johnny Depp.)

Celeb notebook - not sure who the guy in the hat is.
He signed my notebook though.
(and yes he is as good looking in reality as he is on film)
You are more than welcome to leave a comment below – even if you disagree with any (or all) of the above (although rudeness will be removed).

Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!
Everything above is my PERSONAL opinion.

stroll through Chittlehamholt with GOOGLE street view (and see just how narrow our main street is!)

related articles : 
previous article HERE to read it in full)
North Devon Journal (includes a photo of what the timeshare lodges might look like)
Company information Frank W. Chapman 


  1. Dear Helen, I wish you and your neighbours every success in trying to resist Highbullen's timeshare-building plans. These things can be stopped : in Topsham where I now live the community has just bought a piece of land to stop it being built on, and when I lived in Exeter my neighbours and I stopped a small developer in his tracks by community lobbying. I am particularly sad to think of you having to suffer a) more traffic in the lanes and b) light pollution at night. One of the worst things about the traffic is that it will be people who are not local, but have merely come to spend a short time at their timeshare. I can see why you might prefer a helicopter-owning oligarch! Lily Neal

    1. Thank you Lily for your support! Exactly my point - the drivers using these narrow lanes will - for the most part - be totally unfamiliar with them and not be prepared for the narrowness. Plus many visitors to Highbullen (especially businessmen for conferences!) have big posh cars which they are terrified to throw into our high, very overgrown at this time of year hedgerows! (and believe me 'throw' is the right word!)

  2. Request to post a comment on behalf of John F Millar of Williamsburg Virginia: "I thought you’d like to know that time-shares are a major feature of the landscape at Williamsburg. There used to be about 10,000 hotel/motel/B&B rooms in greater Williamsburg, and then the time-shares came in. The hotel/motel/B&B rooms available are now down to about 6000, and there are about 6000 time-share units. Each unit typically has 3 bedrooms and a kitchen. For the most part, these time-shares remain unsold, so there is an aggressive campaign to market them as night-by-night accommodations to the general public. The typical nightly rate offered is $79. Imagine getting 3 bedrooms and a kitchen for $79/night! No hotel, motel, or B&B can compete, so every year there are hotels and motels and B&Bs going out of business, and those of us who remain have the lowest occupancy rates of any accommodations in all of Virginia. Meanwhile, more time-shares are under construction here."

  3. Dear Helen, I do so hope that the village wins and this development is stopped - I hate to see money triumphing over people's feelings, quite apart from the sound common sense of road safety and so on. Good luck to you all.

    1. Thank you Margaret, your support is very much appreciated!

  4. For goodness sake, stick to your guns and fight these people. They are not interested in the rural idyll in which you all live - simply balance sheets. They will be the sort of people who profess to love the countryside and then leave a proximity light on all night because oooh, it's DARK. The same thing is happening where we live albeit on a bigger scale and the resulting volume of traffic simply leads to predictable crashes as people do not allow for black ice or horses/tractors on the road as they speed along (although it will be a VERY abrupt halt down your lanes!). Timeshare is completely wrong - much better to do as you suggest and just make it a very grand hotel or (and I'm not keen on the word but you know what I mean) spa retreat. They could even include collection from the nearest mainline station to encourage guests to travel by public transport and then SELL the idea that the only way to really appreciate the countryside is to get out into it so no car needed - enjoy the 'oasis' of peace & quiet that can be found there. PS Have I got the marketing job yet??? ;) PPS I'll email you.

    1. Thanks Lynn! If I recall HB did suggest running a private bus service but that seems to have been kicked out as I haven't personally heard any more of the idea. It wouldn't solve the problem though, unfortunately, as people prefer the convenience of their cars (fair enough) - the narrow lanes here are just NOT suitable for an excess of extra traffic. Newlands Hill in the winter is a very steep sheet of ice and on days like we've had recently (pouring rain for hours on end) it resembles a river more than a road. And even lovely sunny days cause hazards,because at certain times when the sun is low drivers are not just dazzled but 'blinded' as they come up the hill. More than once my son-in-law has had to slam on brakes because he can't see.

    2. Double thanks for your e-mail and yes, Tesco seems to do that all over the place (build outside small town - small town shopping area becomes a ghost town)

  5. Good luck, Helen. Why must our society fall down on its knees to the idea that bigger is always better? Here in Canada we're closing all the small schools in favour of sending our children to huge monolithic factories. I'm from a different age where children went to one-room schools and learned to get along with all ages. I taught the little ones, listened to their reading, learned how to help others in that way, and did special projects with my teacher. I could also listen to lessons the older kids were having when I finished my own work. I'm not saying we need never change but bigger is NOT always better. Just think of your dress size!
    Good luck, my dear!

    1. Thank you Elaine for your words of support. AS you say, there is nothing wrong with change, but it must be the right change, at the right time, in the right place!

  6. Ooooo, I do so sympathise, Helen. These arrogant people and their misguided belief that they're doing us "poor country folk" some sort of favour, really annoy me to distraction! We're having a similar battle over a proposed monstrous mobile phone mast they want to stick on a hill overlooking our beautiful village. Despite the so-called public 'consultation' meeting where we said, putting it there is the worst possible place, they've gone ahead and applied for planning permission anyway! All the people who'll be able to see it don't want it (we don't want a signal "at any price") and a huge swathe of others are right behind us. Allegedly there are those who want a signal in the area but so far the number 'for' the scheme seems to be a grand total of one! Hopefully common sense (and our campaign) will prevail and the planners will turn it down.
    I wish you the very best in your campaign, Helen. Power to the people!!!!!

  7. Thanks Wendy - let me know if we can do anything to help with your mast! :-/

  8. From Frankie Sheath
    Thank you Helen for your comments here, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said. I have been a resident of Chittlehamholt for 47 years. Although I like progress i don't want to see the village ruined by excessive building in the grounds of a hotel, nor the inordinate amout of traffic coming through the our lovely historical village that will be inevitable with the proposed developement.
    Regards, Frankie

    1. Thank you Frankie. I think the majority of villagers are fine for Highbullen to raise the standard of the hotel - its the scale of this thing that is the problem.


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