geograph 1362918 by Derek Harper Slapton

The village of Slapton in the heart of the South Hams


When Paddy Costeloe, a former rugby player, sportsman and now fulltime wheelchair user, returned with his wife Nettie to the UK after living in Antigua, they were shocked to find a shortage of rural holiday facilities for people with access needs. Devon-educated Paddy had long loved the stunning South Hams coastal landscape, but he was dismayed that few local destination operators had even considered catering to those with physical disabilities.

After discovering that accessible tourism was the largest untapped market in the UK’s visitor industry, Nettie planted the seed that would lead to them and two old rugby mates buying a piece of land and planning the UK’s first 5-star woodland retreat for people with physical impairments and their families, companions and carers.

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Breaking down barriers: the woodland site will offer accessible holidays for all 


Then commenced a lengthy planning process that was to be a challenging and steep learning curve. The site, Coltscombe Wood - a dramatic 7.5-acre woodland combe* next to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) near Slapton Sands - had difficult road access and many ecological and environmental issues, including several pockets of Japanese knotweed (JK). The diverse and productive woodland also included a significant population of mature Sweet chestnuts, a pond and other recognised habitats.

Paddy realised that he would need specialist help to balance the demands of construction and the site’s natural character which he was determined to retain as central to the retreat’s appeal for its therapeutic as well as aesthetic properties.

Multi-skilled approach

Enter JP Associates. We didn’t know it then, but we were about to embark on what was to become a four-year, multi-service, multi-contractor project that would draw on all our arboricultural, land management and invasive species skills – not to mention development, planning, communication and negotiation experience.

Our involvement with the project began with a BS 5837 tree survey. This identified and mapped the trees to be retained and protected throughout development.

It also identified JK. JPA founder Jeremy Peirce - one of the South West’s pre-eminent authorities on invasive plant species - developed an effective JK management plan and began the first phase of control.

Following consultation with South Hams District Council (SHDC) and Slapton Parish Council, during which time there were numerous site visits, we worked with specialist ecologists who undertook a more in-depth habitat survey. We then prepared a woodland management plan and assessment of landscape requirements to support Paddy’s planning application.

We also drew on this information to influence the application so that it would meet anticipated planning conditions – from root protection zones to storage sites for building materials.

Hub for communication

Throughout, we worked as a communications point for a growing team comprising architects, ecologists, engineers and contractors, as well as numerous political and community stakeholders. For example, we worked with engineers on the siting of the headwall of the storm water attenuation ditch to reduce the impact of discharge on retained trees, and on the route of the access road to protect the root zone of significant trees.

Accommodating all demands and constraints was a complex task at times – so we were delighted when our client received full planning permission for six pods for physically disabled guests, owners’ accommodation, and a common residents' facility with reception.

wheelchair friendly holiday cabin

Room for manoeuvre: pods are designed to accommodate wheelchair users


The work didn’t end there, though. As part of the pre-commencement conditions of permission, we were required to produce a full landscape and ecology management plan (LEMP), drawing together our recommendations from existing technical documents and outlining, amongst other things, detailed tree protection measures, boundary treatment information and the construction methodology close to trees for the track, bridge and pods.

We also revised the woodland management plan to reflect post-consent requirements and the ecologists’ recommendations, and to include further detailed proposals on matters such as how the on-site wood could be used in the construction and in additional markets.

Ecology leads the way

Paddy said: ‘This was a very complicated project which flung up issue after issue and I was completely out of my depth when it came to all the ecological demands of the site. Jeremy put my mind immediately at rest on our first meeting with his obvious wealth of knowledge and technical expertise, but more importantly his willingness to listen to my crazy plan with an objective ear. I genuinely wanted the site to remain as natural as possible, but had no idea how realistic this would be. Jeremy suggested that “the ecological needs of the site will dictate how it will be developed, not the other way round” and that has been our mantra since.

‘Jeremy and JP Associates have been a priceless and indispensable partner throughout my project, always available with advice, information or to meet on site and, no matter what challenges were thrown at us, one by one JP Associates methodically overcame them with sensitivity, expertise and professionalism.’


* A short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England


Paddy’s research highlighted the need for such accommodation, not only in South Devon but throughout the whole of the UK and this prompted him to start a new company to make accessible accommodation widely available. Together with Nettie and friends Ollie and Sarah Cadle, they formed Omni Access Ltd which manufactures modular, universally accessible pods and cabins.