PLANS to knock down the former Hythe police station to make way for a block of retirement flats likened to a “prison” have been rejected by a government inspector who said they would spoil the character of the area.
McCarthy and Stone’s proposals for 35 apartments on the vacant site in Jones Lane were first refused last year by New Forest District Council.
The company challenged the decision on appeal – but following a public hearing in June the plan has now been turned down again as a “bulky” structure at odds with its surroundings, just outside Hythe’s conservation area.
As reported in the A&T, the three to four-storey designs were branded “ugly” and compared to a jail block when they were first refused by NFDC’s planning committee.
Backing their judgement, planning inspector Steven Rennie noted the new L-shaped building would be “significantly taller” than the police station.
He said its mostly flat roof would appear out of place with the nearby houses and despite existing trees being preserved, their branches would not be enough to screen the “visual impact” of the new building which he criticised as “excessively bulky”.
Mr Rennie concluded: “The proposed building would be an unsympathetic addition to the area, at odds with the character and scale of the surrounding built environment.”
Its size would also harm the nearby conservation area, he said, as well as the setting of several listed buildings nearby.
Although the new homes would make better use of the site and bring “social and economic benefits”, the inspector said that was not enough to overcome the visual damage to the neighbourhood.
Originally, NFDC planning officers had also objected to McCarthy and Stone offering £46,000 for cheaper housing funds instead of the £266,000 demanded. But the appeal decision stated that the company had later agreed to the full amount.
The outcome will please Hythe and Dibden Parish Council, which objected to the scheme as “industrial”, as well as 75 objectors. There had been 19 letters of support.
Parish councillor Allan Fairhead said: “Before being elected in May, and therefore as a member of the public, I raised strong objections to this proposal, and I am delighted it has been rejected. We have enough retirement flats in Hythe.
“I am particularly encouraged by the inspector’s reference to the effect on the character and appearance of the area.
“Specifically, the proposal does not take into account adequate provision for affordable housing in the area. I hope McCarthy and Stone takes the large hint!”
A McCarthy and Stone spokesperson said the company was considering its next steps in response to the ruling.
When the appeal was lodged, the company’s regional managing director, Shane Paull, warned the New Forest had a growing need for retirement accommodation, with 2,100 new sheltered accommodation dwellings required by 2036.
The police station site has lain empty since 2017 when police officers left in a cost-cutting move to share a base at Hardley fire station in Falconer Court.