National park refuses couple’s £1.5m eco-home as ‘not special enough’

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New Forest Activity Centre
The £1.5m home submitted by Nina and Guy McNair-Wilson

A NEW £1.5m “eco-home” on a controversial site in Brockenhurst has been turned down by the national park authority after it was judged not to be special enough.

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Landowner Guy McNair-Wilson, an architectural designer who lives in East End and is the son of former New Forest MP Sir Patrick, wanted to build the single-storey property at the former New Forest Activity Centre, off Rhinefield Road.

He put his case to the NPA’s planning committee at Lymington town hall – but was turned down by members who described it as a “massive” new dwelling next to highly protected land.

Mr McNair-Wilson had applied to demolish the redundant agricultural structures and put in their place a single-storey, wood-clad dwelling divided into two wings either side of a courtyard.

The living area would be thatched and the one for bedrooms covered with a sedum living flat-roof. The rest of the site would include a pond, meadow and outbuildings containing an office.

The one-storey property would be thatched on one side with a living flatroof on the other

The site, which was once an equestrian venue, was previously controversially planned for use as a medieval jousting venue by the late New Forest entrepreneur Alan Girling.

There were fears the scheme would cause congestion from visitor traffic and harm the village and Mr Girling eventually gave up his quest for planning permission after a renewed effort in 2013.

Because the site lies outside the defined village of Brockenhurst, policy states that new residential development is not permitted unless as an exception for agricultural workers or commoners’ dwellings.

Mr McNair-Wilson challenged this under rules which state that if designs can be allowed if they are of exceptional quality or highly innovative.

New Forest Activity Centre
Applicants Nina and Guy McNair-Wilson

The 1.7-hectare (4.2-acre) site would provide a home for his family, Mr McNair-Wilson told members of the planning committee on Tuesday.

He said building the “beautiful single-storey thatched and timber house that reflects the New Forest’s DNA” was the best solution for the site, which was “deeply unpopular” within the local community”.

He said: “The fundamental problem with the site is that it benefits from brownfield and D2 use. As well as many potential commercial operations, the site can hold gatherings of 1,000 people per day without licence.

“The site has extremely poor ecological value, with almost the entire site is covered with manmade materials. It includes two extremely large and ugly commercial buildings clad in asbestos and are clearly visible from the main road.

“Our application proposes to remove the brownfield and D2 class forever and remove all of the buildings and pollutants. Two acres of the site would revert to open countryside for the first time in 52 years.”

He added: “In addition to the exceptional architecture, a powerful eco-system recovery model will be applied to the entire site, focussing on native and endangered species.”

He added the application had only received support, including from the parish council, theFriends of Brockenhurst and the Friends of the New Forest.

Mr McNair-Wilson said: “We ask the members to realise that this is not an ordinary application for a new house – it is a carefully considered vision that infinitely enhances the setting and is something for the national park to be proud of.”

Supporting the application was Cllr Russel Horne who, speaking on behalf of Brockenhurst Parish Council, said the innovative design would remove the eyesore of the existing asbestos-laden buildings.

One of the sheds at the disused New Forest Activity Centre site

He added: “Leaving the site as it is hardly complies with one of the objectives of the national park to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.”

However, district councillor Maureen Holding said she felt the NPA’s officers had “got it right” by recommending refusal.

Calling the site “a thorn in her side for many years” she said: “The land is very precious. It’s very special – it has got SSSIs around it. It is a very beautiful part of Brockenhurst. I think if the precedent goes, it will become more and more developed.

“I look at it and I think – is it a great contribution? It’s subjective. Personally, I don’t think it is anything that is really extra special, it’s just different. It is not only against your policy, but it is against national policy as well.”

The New Forest National Park Authority’s offices at Lymington town hall

NPA member Richard Taylor said: “It’s obvious it doesn’t meet any of our policies. It’s a massive house. I don’t see it as exceptional and I’d find it very difficult to support this application.”

However, George Bisson said he supported the application, even though it was “immediately obvious” it did not comply with the authority’s policies.

He said: “This could be a wonderful opportunity. The parish council are very supportive, and the neighbours are very supportive.

“I think it would conserve and it would enhance – rather than have a dilapidated ménage of falling down buildings and manmade surfaces.”

The NPA’s executive director of strategy and planning, Steve Avery, said: “The site has a lawful equestrian D2 use and indeed I think this argument has been rehearsed with previous applications, that unless planning consent is granted for residential development, the site will be used a lot more intensively for D2 purposes.

“This was considered in some detail in the last appeal in 2016 and the inspector was unequivocal in dismissing that as a reason to grant planning permission.

“We believe it to be unrealistic and, furthermore, to remember that pretty much every equestrian facility in the New Forest has a D2 use and there are plenty of those, so this is not quite an exceptional situation.”

He added: “The only thing put forward different through this application to the previous three that have been refused is that it is saying this is now of such exceptional and innovative design that it should be considered as an exception.”

Committee member John Sanger agreed: “We’ve got a sedum flat roof, some energy saving which is fairly common in lots of buildings at the moment and a pond. These aren’t exceptional.”

The committee voted in favour of rejecting the application by five to two, with two abstentions.

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