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Campers furious as holidays cancelled for Sandy Balls' £10m luxury makeover

Carl Castledine, chief executive of Sandy Balls' owner Away Resorts
Carl Castledine, chief executive of Sandy Balls' owner Away Resorts

ABOUT 250 campers have had their holidays cancelled at one of the biggest tourist attractions in the New Forest as it prepares for a £10m makeover.

Sandy Balls near Fordingbridge will start work next month on replacing 345 touring caravan and camping pitches with 108 timber-clad lodges, plus outdoor hot tubs.

What was meant to be a celebratory announcement on Facebook by chief executive Carl Castledine was instead deluged with more than 550 comments, with many from people angry at losing their holiday bookings and unhappy at the changes.

For the last week staff have been calling holidaymakers booked in from 1st November onwards to tell them their reservations have been deleted so construction of the new accommodation can go ahead over the winter.

One complainant said: “I’d like my money back from somebody please! Really poor management of this whole ‘decision’ and a lot of resentful loyal touring customers it seems from all the posts on this thread. Very disappointed.”

Another wrote: “Most of us campers can’t afford to stay in your uber-luxurious lodges and statics – wonderful memories and experiences now gone forever.”

One woman added: “What a joke. Ever since you took over at Sandy Balls it's become far too expensive!! How people can afford to stay there is shocking! Sandy balls has lost what everyone loved about it because of pure greed.”

A spokesperson for Sandy Balls, which was bought by Away Resorts from the founding Westlake family in 2017, said all those who have lost out would be refunded.

A halt was called on 27th September to taking any camping or touring bookings after 1st November, she said.

About 250 campers had their holidays cancelled at Sandy Balls to make room for new lodges
About 250 campers had their holidays cancelled at Sandy Balls to make room for new lodges

Camping and touring customers are also being offered 10% discounts at Shorefields holiday parks, the spokesperson added, with 75 having taken up the invitation so far.

It is estimated that half of the new development will be ready by Easter next year with the remaining holiday homes welcoming guests by early June.

Mr Castledine said: “To some extent touring and camping had almost become too popular and with modern tents, motor homes and caravans becoming larger than ever, the experience was worsening over time with guests becoming increasingly disappointed.

“On top of that the New Forest planning authority have an express preference to reduce the amount of ‘footfall’ in the New Forest so the option to increase the touring and camping footprint and make more space for our guests was not available to us.

“In the end, to support the investment required, we were left with little option but to convert the area for accommodation.”

He added: “I appreciate this decision may come as a disappointment to some of our guests, especially those that have stayed with us year after year, and for that I am genuinely sorry.”

The proposals at the 51-hectare site were approved by the national park authority in July, despite warnings campers would migrate to other more sensitive parts of the Forest.

In its application Away Resorts, which owns five other holiday parks, said the changes would reduce visitors while boosting the local economy by attracting higher-spending customers and creating up to 40 new jobs.

However, responses by Sandy Balls to complaints on Facebook at the weekend said there would be no extra jobs, just workers employed for a longer period. It also said planning permission had only been approved “in the last few weeks”.

A spokesperson told the A&T staff numbers were “currently under review” for 2019.

She added: “And as regards to the development, the planning went through on 20th July and once the team fully understood the conditions of the approval, they then had to secure financing.”

Sandy Balls predicted the plans would reduce visitors from more than 74,000 in 2017 to a projected level of nearly 62,000. Park traffic was forecast to decrease 23% during the August peak.

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