Purbeck boat hire business to expand despite opposition

A business owner has praised Dorset councillors for ‘seeing sense’ after unexpectly allowing him to build a new larger office and store room at his boat hire company, within the Wareham conservation area.

Despite a recommendation by Dorset Council planning officers to refuse the application by Wareham Boat Hire on Abbots Quay, councillors disagreed and granted permission at its planning committee on Wednesday 22nd February 2023.


Wareham Boat Hire at Abbots Quay with the current blue container that is used as an office

plan of proposed building for Wareham Boat hire
Morgan Carey Architects

The plan by Wareham-based architects Morgan Carey showing the new timber building and what it will look like on the quay

Boat hire business has 20,000 visitors a year

The company’s owner Matthew Jones argued that the larger building was crucial to the operation of his business and the decison to build the new facilities would secure its future for the next 25 years.

Matthew, who also owns the Blue Pool nature reserve and tearooms near Wareham, told councillors at the meeting:

“Wareham Boat Hire has been operating from Abbots Quay since 1950 and my wife and I have been working there for 14 years. With 20,000 visitors a year, the boat hire is a considerable public benefit.

“Currently there is an ugly metal kiosk situated on Abbots Quay for which temporary planning permission has been granted many times.

“It has taken eight years for Dorset Council to obtain legal title to Abbots Quay, and they have granted us a new 25-year lease which states that the tenant may, at its own expense, build a permanent structure to be approved by the landlord.

“The existing structure requires spill out onto the quay, the life jackets and equipment – paddles, oars, engines, fuel – need to be unpacked on to the quay in order for employees to enter the kiosk.

“The modest increase in size will result in less disruption, and it is the absolute minimum we need to trade within our health and safety requirements.”

Wareham Town Council had objected to the plans, mainly over concerns that the expansion might jeopardise public access to the quay in the future.

Director of Wareham Boat Hire Matthew Jones was delighted by the decision
Wareham Boat Hire

Director of Wareham Boat Hire Matthew Jones was delighted by the decision

“Unjustified visual harm…to the conservation area”

The main objection by Dorset Council planners, based on the report by the conservation and design officer Tobias Carleton-Prangnell, was that the proposed building was too big and would have a harmful impact on the character, appearance and setting of the Wareham Conservation Area.

Dorst Council planning officer Cari Wooldridge said:

“The proposed increase in mass and height, when compared to the existing kiosk, is significant and would appear more dominant and overbearing within the open quayside location.

“The business that runs from the hut contributes to the vitality of Wareham Quay, particularly during the summer months, and provides local employment. It plays a role in encouraging people to visit the quayside creating a wider economic benefit for the town in general.

“However, officers consider that the limited degree of public benefit associated with seasonal leisure use of the proposed kiosk would not be outweighed by the unjustified visual harm that the permanent and significantly larger kiosk would cause to the conservation area.”

The offices, in a sensitive conservation area, will be rebuilt in wood

The current appearance of the blue container

“It’s a distinct improvement”

But councillor Alex Brenton, for Lytchett Matravers and Upton, told the meeting:

“The proposed building doesn’t cause any harm at all to the quayside – not only will it promote and preserve the existing commercial business, it will also be an improvement in terms of the look and atmosphere.

“My family has used the boats and the quay in the past, I know the area quite well and the blue metal shed definitely needs replacing. On the whole I think it’s a very good plan, a distinct improvement and not a problem.”

Concluding the discussion, councillors overturned the recommendation to refuse permission by seven votes to three, saying they believed the new building would look better and cause no harm at all to the conservation area.

Bamford's Pump Wareham Quay

Bamford’s Pump, dating back more than 100 years, will be moved closer to the bridge

Historic Bamford’s Water Pump to be relocated

The building of the new timber building will mean having to move the historic Bamford’s Pump, which used to draw water from the River Frome to clean the streets and dampen down excess dust.

The pump, which dates from before World War One, has already been moved several times and plans have been drawn up to relocate it next to nearby seating close to the bridge.

The planning site is set in a conservation area on the banks of the River Frome

A popular place to sit and view the boats

“Absolutely essential to Wareham Boat Hire”

Matthew said after the decision went in his favour:

“I am delighted that the councillors saw sense, it was absolutely essential to Wareham Boat Hire that we have a permanent structure to move the business on.

“The current shipping container is at least 30 years old and is rusting away and far too small for our needs.

“We have huge health and safety obligations to meet, and need to store 100 life jackets and 10 lifebuoy rings, but also have space for an engine store and office space for the staff we employ.

“We are local people ourselves, I live 100 metres away from the slipway. We know it’s a public space and we want to play our part to make it a thriving business for the town.”

Even four-legged customers have given the paws up to paddleboarding
Wareham Boat Hire

Even four-legged customers have given the paws up to paddleboarding!

New building in time for spring 2024

Wareham Boat Hire will open for the 2023 season at the end of March using the existing building, but when it closes for the winter, the new permanent wooden office and storerooms will be built.

The boat business operates through spring and summer with five full time staff, running boat trips, canoe and kayak coaching and paddle boarding, and has a five-star rating from 120 customers on Tripadvisor.

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