'Councillors saved our business,' says boat hire firm facing canal closures

The tepee will be in place between May and September
The tepee will be in place between May and September

The owner of a boat hire business near Hoghton says councillors have probably kept the venture afloat by granting permission for it to diversify.

Planning officers at Chorley Council had recommended that Canal Boat Cruises of Riley Green should be blocked from erecting a tepee on greenbelt land close to the Leeds Liverpool canal.

The family firm had applied to install the structure in order to host weddings and outdoor education activities on the site during the summer months.

But in a rare move, members of the authority’s development control committee voted unanimously to ignore the advice of its own officials and instead give the application the go-ahead.

Owner Lesley Yates says the decision has helped secure the family’s future after their business model was blighted by repeated closures of the watercourse on which they rely.

“Last year, it was shut for months because the dry summer meant there wasn’t enough water flowing down from reservoirs in the Pennines to fill the locks. That meant our boats could only travel from Riley Green to the next lock at Blackburn – whereas most people want to go further than that.

“This year, the canal is closed for works at Burnley, which stops people who moor their boats at our marina from getting here.

“So if the councillors had come to a different decision, the business would have been in jeopardy,” Lesley added.

The firm has already been using the tepee, because planning law allows it to be erected for 28 days per year without seeking special permission.

However, that time limit meant the 350 square metre structure had to be dismantled and reassembled in between events – which amounted to a two-day operation before and after each occasion it was used.

It was for that reason officers concluded the teepee was a “building…with a degree of permanence” and refused permission on the basis that the business had not demonstrated the “very special circumstances” which have to be proved before allowing development in the greenbelt.

But councillors saw the issue differently and focused instead on the value of the business not just to its owners, but to Chorley itself.

“I’ve met people on the tow path who have come from as far afield as Surrey because of this firm,” committee member Yvonne Hargreaves said.

“But it’s being decimated by the fact that the canal is so often closed – and so they need to diversify.”

Lesley said she had to “have a word with herself” after becoming tearful during her presentation to the committee in which she put the case for being granted planning permission.

“When we arrived here in 2006, the site was derelict and we’ve worked hard to build it up ever since – so we would have been devastated to see it go,” she said