LANDOWNERS and developers called for building controls on the edge of the New Forest National Park to be watered down as planning inspectors launched a public examination of proposed new keystone policies on Tuesday.
The national park authority’s draft Local Plan sets out how to deliver 800 homes by 2036 and is being assessed by government-appointed inspectors chairing a two-week hearing at the town hall in Lymington.
Scrutiny is being led by Kevin Ward and Caroline Mulloy who will report back on any major changes they say should be made before the Local Plan can be formally adopted.
Among a host of new rules, the document sets out major allocations for 50 homes at the former Lyndhurst Park Hotel; 40 south of Church Lane in Sway; 60 east of Whartons Lane in Ashurst; and 30 in Calshot, south of the B3054 which is currently earmarked for a cemetery.
Another 120 have been assigned next to Fawley power station as part of a nearly £1bn scheme being drawn up for 1,500 homes, mostly in a pocket of New Forest District Council territory. The document is aiming for 50% of all new properties to be affordable.
Lining up for the NPA this week were executive director for strategy and planning Steve Avery and planning policy manager David Illsley.
Over the course of the hearings the NPA team will be faced with arguments for alterations from developers, landowners, parish councils and lobbying organisations including conservation group Friends of the Forest (formerly the New Forest Association).
There were challenges to the NPA’s strategy from the start, led off by Brockenhurst landowner Patricia Hilborn whose representative criticised the lack of development land allocated in the village, and urged its planning boundary to be enlarged to provide more homes.
That was impossible, said Mr Illsley, because of rules barring construction closer than 400 metres to bird-conserving Special Protection Areas, which surround much of Brockenhurst.
The five housing allocations are a first for the NPA which until now has relied on “windfall” development mostly within the less strictly controlled “defined villages” of Ashurst, Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Sway, said Mr Illsley, which all sit on the mainline railway.
NPA members had favoured full site allocations instead of expanding their borders to avoid the risk of “piecemeal” building on small patches of land, he said.
The New Forest’s 219 square miles are home to 2,500 businesses and 35,000 residents. Like other planning authorities, the NPA is under pressure to meet government housing targets. The neighbouring NFDC’s own draft Local Plan is proposing 10,500 homes by 2036.
Sir George Meyrick, of the wealthy Hinton Admiral Estate, argued that land near Bransgore the village within the national park should have development rules relaxed because it was neither pretty nor accessible to the public.
Mr Illsley responded: “This examination cannot change the national park boundaries. It was set out in a full designation legal process. People claim outside edges do not deserve the protection of the core – but the whole park has full protection. There is no ambiguity.”
Some of the issues of development space stemmed from the final park boundaries being set in 2005 about 30% smaller than originally envisaged and excluding Bransgore, Ringwood and Lymington, he added.
And he warned that allowing urban encroachment would leave the park vulnerable to being shrunk even further when its borders next come up for review.
Sir George also criticised the NPA for having no place for “exceptional development” and claimed many New Forest buildings deemed worthy of listing would not have been allowed under the proposed rules.
Speaking for Seaward Properties Ltd, which has an interest in land just inside the park in Pennington, Ian Johnson said it made sense to allow “sensible additions” with good amenities to spread inwards to provide more attractive homes than in more isolated villages, such as Calshot.
He questioned how the 120 homes allocated next to Fawley power station could be consistent with the NPA’s opposition to the small numbers of additional homes he was suggesting.
But Mr Avery argued that the scheme by Fawley Waterside Ltd, a consortium led by local landowner Aldred Drummond who attended the hearing, was intended to be of such “exceptional quality” that part of it could even be considered for inclusion within the park later.
Cllr Stephen Tarling, of Sway Parish Council, called for better protection against being “plagued” by “inappropriate boundary treatments” which had led to hedgerows being grubbed up in his village.
New policies to protect valuable trees had been included, explained Mr Illsley, who commented: “We have a logo with a tree and Forest in our name – but we do currently not have a policy to protect trees.”
The examination continues until next Thursday.