Winter wonderland wins over residents after rocky start

Published: 4 Jan 2014 12:300 comments

A CONTROVERSIAL winter wonderland has managed to win round many residents after its first year in Swinley Forest.

Bracknell Forest Council mayor Cllr Jan Angell officially opening Lapland UK with elves, Mother Christmas and Father Christmas.

LaplandUK operated its theatrical Christmas experience from November 30-December 24, and its plans had been met with a lot of local opposition prior to its opening.

The company’s planning application had attracted 330 objections, with locals concerned about traffic disruption and the impact on the environment but had also received more than 400 letters of support.

About 30 angry residents had attended the Bracknell Forest Council planning meeting where the plans were approved last August – which resulted in two police officers also stationing themselves there.

However, despite much concern by local people and the Royal Borough about traffic levels throughout the duration of the experience, many doubters have been pleasantly surprised.

In order to limit traffic levels, visitors to Lapland UK had to book in advance in staggered tour times. There were also shuttle buses from Ascot railway station for both staff and visitors.

Nearly 40 people took to the News’s Facebook page to voice their opinions, with many saying they did not notice a change in traffic levels in Swinley Road and adjoining roads.

Siobhan Romp said: “My daughter goes to school nearby so I was dreading pick-up times but there wasn’t any traffic.”

Also writing on our Facebook page, Anthony ‘Toad’ Roberts added: “I had concerns after hearing they were coming to our town as their previous reputation was pretty bad. But I’ve heard nothing but praise for how great it was and I’ve seen many a happy family who went there.”

Some readers said that while it was a great attraction, it was too pricey for many families, with tickets ranging from £45-£75 per person. Andrew Webb said: “It was far too expensive, although from photos we’ve seen it looked wonderful and we’ve heard great things from friends and neighbours.

“It was just too expensive to consider.”

Alison Hogg added: “They need to make it more affordable so everyone can enjoy it.”

The wintry experience topped off its first year by providing the location for the opening credits of the Christmas Day special of the BBC’s hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing.

Visitors over the month included Sir Elton John with his partner David Furnish and son Zachary, who went there on December 22.

Mike and Alison Battle, who run Lapland UK, said their first season at Whitmore Bog was sold out following a huge demand for tickets. The couple had run the experience in Kent for six years prior to moving it to Ascot. It rents the land from Whitmore Bog’s owner, the Crown Estate.

Mr Battle said: “We are delighted with LaplandUK’s inaugural season on the Windsor Estate.

“LaplandUK received outstanding reviews from the public and media alike and was thrilled to welcome both royal and celebrity families as well as military and local charities to our beautiful new location.

“Despite being sold out, we were also pleased to deliver on our promise of not producing any identifiable impact on the local road network and providing a boost to the local economy through employment and secondary spend.

“The ‘star on the top of the tree’ for the season was to have LaplandUK spectacularly showcased on BBC’s Christmas Day Strictly Come Dancing. We look forward to another successful season in 2014.”

Bracknell Forest Council granted planning permission in August for Lapland UK to run the winter wonderland for three years and it will return between November 24 and December 24 later this year and between the same dates in 2015.

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