Councillors urged to approve 170 homes in town centre

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Aster Homes
A CGI of Aster Homes’ plans for the site in Christchurch

AN END to planning delays surrounding the derelict Christchurch police and magistrates’ courts could be in sight as BCP councillors are set to approve construction of 170 homes and shops.

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The station, which has been empty for five years, has become a magnet for Travellers who regularly set up camp on its grounds, and has also been a target for vandals.

The future of the site had split local residents, some of whom branded it a “total eyesore” and an “embarrassment” to Christchurch.

But others claim the proposed development, by Aster Homes, is “overkill” and will “dominate” the town.

Attempts to regenerate the site have been going on since 2011 with several major developers failing to secure planning permission.

The former Christchurch police station

Now BCP Council’s planning committee is being recommended by officers to approve the scheme when it meets next Thursday.

Aster Homes is seeking to build 131 homes, 39 retirement units, retail space, open community land and a science museum.

The site includes the police station, magistrates’ courts, the former Goose and Timber pub and two residential homes in Barrack Road. They would all be demolished to make way for the new development. The Pit Site car park would also be built on.

If given the go-ahead Aster Homes would include 53 affordable houses in the project.

Urging the planning committee to give the green light, the company said in a statement: “The proposals set out in this application represent a positive, creative and sustainable opportunity to regenerate the single largest brownfield site in Christchurch.”

The plans attracted 126 letters of objection and four petitions against, containing a total of 933 signatures.

Christchurch Town Council said it is concerned about the loss of public car parking, while Dorchester Wildlife Trust said a proposed ecological corridor was not adequate.

However, BCP planning officer Sophie Mawdsley wrote in a report that the new housing would be a “significant contribution” to Christchurch.

She said: “The proposal by virtue of the quality of the scheme would result in a development with significant benefits to the character and appearance and setting of the conservation area and the town centre.”

Ms Mawdsley also told councillors that the plans would “provide considerable economic, and potentially cultural, benefits in a sustainable accessible central location”.

She added: “It will contribute a significant number towards the BCP five-year housing land supply.”

She also credited Aster Homes with coming up with “very well realised and very well designed” plans.

If the redevelopment does go ahead it will be good news for Christchurch-based charity The Hospital of St Mary Magdalen, which owns a part of the land it will be built on.

It feared that if the application was refused again Aster Homes would pull out of the project altogether.

Clerk to the trustees Alastair Hoare said: “They have invested a huge amount of time and effort trying to get approval for this derelict site to be regenerated.

“It has taken nine years to get to this point. If the application is refused it could be years before the site is brought to market again.”

The charity owns less than an acre of land behind its offices in Barrack Road. At present it is “completely overgrown” and unusable, according to Mr Hoare.

He said: “We pay £3,500 a year in maintenance – £1,200 of which is for pest control, otherwise it would be overrun with rats.

“At the moment the land is worthless to us, if we could sell it to Aster at least we could use the profit to help the poor and needy of Christchurch.”

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