VISITORS to a Somerset beauty spot could keep being hit with steep parking fines after “un-consented” changes to a car park were allowed to remain in place.

The East Quantoxhead Estate runs the Kilve Beach car park, providing access to one of the most popular unspoilt beaches on the West Somerset coast.

The estate made changes to the car park without planning permission, installing new ticket machines and a number plate recognition camera which has led to numerous visitors being hit with £100 fines.

Somerset West and Taunton Council has now agreed to grant retrospective permission for the changes – despite numerous councillors arguing it would ruin the local area.

The car park, which is owned by the estate, lies between Kilve Beach and St Mary’s Church in the village, located at the northern tip of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

In addition to the new ticket machines and camera, the estate also extended the car park using grassed areas, increasing the number of parking spaces from 48 to 67.

Bruce Eyley, vice-chairman of Kilve Parish Council, told a virtual meeting of the council’s planning committee on Thursday morning (April 29) that the changes seemed to be designed to “trap” visitors who stayed too long.

He said: “The un-consented works carried out by the estate removed verge protection that was grant-funded by Natural England.

“The car park extension was constructed with no planning permission, consultation or survey of the need for more parking spaces.

“The erection of a number plate recognition camera, on a mast with anti-climbing spikes, appears to have been positioned to trap unsuspecting visitors, with the high likelihood of £100 penalties.”

Bridgwater Mercury: Kilve Beach Car Park. CREDIT: Colvin & Colvin Architects. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Mr Eyley added that the erection of this camera had “resulted in a tirade of misery and anger” on social media – with numerous visitors leaving negative reviews on the beach’s TripAdvisor page.

The most recent review, posted on Tuesday (April 27), gave the beach one star out of five, stating: “This ruined our day out and will tell everyone we know not to bother returning.”

Jon Colvin of Colvin & Colvin Architects (representing the estate) said the car park would not be extended further and plans to tarmac part of the site had been abandoned.

He said: “A balance has to be struck with the signs on-site between providing sufficient notice of the parking charges and any potential harm [to the natural landscape].”

Councillor Chris Morgan (whose Quantock Vale ward includes the site) said: “I have my grandparents and my father buried in Kilve church, which makes me local.

“It’s very difficult at the moment to park outside the church to go into the churchyard, because of all the cars that are parked there to avoid the £100 fine.

“The toilets, although locked, are still used. At the back of the toilets, near the stream, people are defecating and urinating – it’s truly disgusting. Where the money from the car park going?”

Councillor Roger Habgood walked the entire length of the Somerset coast (including Kilve Beach) in October 2020 to raise money for the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

He said: “I’m very concerned about this, because it completely changes the nature of the place.

“Some of my commando mates met me here at when I walked the whole coast path – they picked up a £100 fine, and it was 2am.”

Councillor Dixie Darch added: “In an ideal world I’d like to see no signs, an honesty box and the money going to the AONB or the National Trust. The existing set-up is awful.

“I’m very relieved that the car park is not being extended, since I’m not sure that part of the Somerset coast can sustain increased visitor levels.”

Councillor Mark Lithgow, however, argued there was no reason in planning law why retrospective permission should not be granted.

He said: “I do suspect that people speaking against this have been doing so from an emotional point of view, rather than an objective one. They’re not changing the car park, they’re improving it as it is.

“It’s a private car park, and it’s not for us to say how the owner should spend that money.”

A motion to refuse permission for the changes was defeated by three votes to five, with two abstentions.

The committee then voted to grant retrospective permission by five votes to three (again with two abstentions), meaning the changes can remain in place.