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'A disgrace' – New Forest District Council's planning committee slammed after opening door to Lymington police station redevelopment

"A DISGRACE" – that was reaction when New Forest District Council’s planning committee opened the door for the contentious redevelopment of Lymington’s former police station.

Instead of rejecting or approving Churchill Retirement Living’s scheme to revamp the site with 32 retirement flats, it opted to defer the decision, which means the plan will likely go ahead if NFDC officers successfully renegotiate the affordable housing contribution the developer has offered.

The decision caused fury in the public gallery, with Cllr Andy Ash-Vie, who is the chair of Lymington and Pennington Town Council’s planning committee, firing an angry broadside in the council chamber at Appletree Court in Lyndhurst.

Lymington police station closed in October last year
Lymington police station closed in October last year

"That’s bloody awful," he bellowed. "A real rubbish decision. A disgrace. You call that democracy?"

He stormed out, only to briefly return and slam the committee members and NFDC’s chief planning officer Claire Upton-Brown.

"It’s one person one vote – and that’s Claire Upton-Brown. Shame on you," he added.

Churchill’s plan proposed 21 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom flats at the Southampton Road site, as well as communal facilities and 12 parking spaces. As mitigation it also offered a £584,000 contribution to affordable housing in the district.

Appearing before the committee, agent Stuart Goodwill stressed the developer’s argument there was a "critical need" for retirement housing in the country and a "significant pressing need" within the district boundary.

"The social and economic benefits are significant and substantial and should be given significant planning weight," he told members.

Plans for the flats
Plans for the flats

He also pointed out a plan for 40 retirement homes at Stanford Hill was rejected by NFDC, only for that decision to be overturned by a government inspector which, he said, gave the committee an "unequivocal steer on how schemes like this should be determined".

Churchill’s plan was not popular: 1,400 signed an opposition petition, the town council objected with 21 reasons why it should be turned down, 76 people wrote objections to NFDC, and the Lymington Society was against it. Not one person wrote in favour.

Cllr Ash-Vie, Donald Mackenzie of the Lymington Society, and Lymington county councillor Barry Dunning all stressed to the committee their belief that the town had enough retirement housing and needed more affordable properties.

As of last week on the Right Move website, more than 60 units in the town were still up for sale, Cllr Dunning said – some of which had been on the market for more than two years.

"Lymington is a lovely town but is being blighted by so many retirement homes being built and lying empty," he said.

They also argued the plan was overdevelopment, out of character, and had insufficient parking, facilities and landscaping.

NFDC's Claire Upton-Brown
NFDC's Claire Upton-Brown

Members on the planning committee largely agreed. Cllr Arthur Davies said it was "one of the worst designs we have seen" and "cramped".

Cllr Anne Corbridge urged refusal, adding: "I feel very powerfully that logic, common sense and local knowledge has to come into play."

Cllr Alan Glass proposed refusing the scheme, backed by Cllr Corbridge, listing concerns that included parking and overdevelopment.

However, Mrs Upton-Brown intervened and told members those reasons were not good enough, citing the Stanford Hill decision.

She said Churchill's affordable housing contribution should be closer to £1.6m, adding that even if members approved the plan, officers would enter discussions with Churchill to increase it.

They were warned that when a figure was agreed between NFDC and Churchill, it will go back to the committee to decide whether to approve that or not – however, it cannot redebate the plan.

After those discussions Cllr Glass switched his proposal to deferring the decision for negotiations. He was backed by Cllr Sue Bennison, and members eventually voted 6-5 for that action – prompting boos from the public gallery.

After the meeting Lymington Society spokesperson Donald MacKenzie said: "It's outrageous that the concerted opposition to this application and the clear feeling of councillors that this was an inappropriate building was not allowed to proceed to a vote to refuse at the planning committee due to the chair pushing through a vote to defer this application.

"It's even more outrageous that when this returns to be debated at a future committee, a vote to refuse will now no longer be accepted by the chair."

He said it was now "open season on Lymington", adding: "It's a sad day for democracy when procedural manoeuvrings prevent a proper vote on the appropriateness of a building considered by council members."

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