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Call for separate Christchurch planners amid claim Highcliffe is 'easy target' for developers

Highcliffe's high street, Lymington Road
Highcliffe's high street, Lymington Road

A RESIDENTS’ association has claimed Highcliffe has become an “easy target” for developers wanting to make money by building large blocks of flats.

Highcliffe Residents’ Association (HRA) has added its voice to demands that BCP Council set up a special planning committee dedicated to considering applications for Christchurch.

The call comes after a controversial plan for 14 apartments on the site of a demolished chalet bungalow in Chewton Farm Road was given the go-ahead by the authority despite fierce local opposition.

The group has now written to the council calling for its single planning committee to be divided into three to cover Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole.

Poole-based property developer Richard Carr, of Fortitudo Ltd, had his application to build a block of flats on land that forms part of the 100-year-old Chewton Farm Estate approved in December last year, despite complaints it was a “complete overdevelopment of the site”.

Mr Carr said the apartments were aimed at helping downsizing retirees who wanted to stay in the area.

The HRA stated in its letter: “We have had enough of developers seeing Highcliffe as an easy target to build more and more flats.

“In the past year alone permission has been given for more than 160 flats to be built on Lymington and Wharncliffe roads.

“Character family homes are being destroyed to line developers’ pockets, and we are seeing a move towards total urbanisation of the village.”

The HRA claimed the Chewton Farm Estate has been designated as a site with H9 status, which is aimed at resisting overdevelopment. According to the association, the former Christchurch Borough Council had always upheld this principle in the past.

But it complained that BCP Council’s planning committee has a “great majority of members living outside the Christchurch area”, adding that “at the moment it seems that our views are not being listened to”.

The letter ended by saying: “The popular view of Highcliffe and Walkford is that it is full of old people and this is simply not the case.

“We want to see a balance of housing which encourages more participation in the village for both young and old. We are aware that land opportunities in Bournemouth for new development are limited, but we don’t want to see all of our green belt encroached on even more.”

BCP Council previously rejected calls in January by Cllr Margaret Phipps, of the Christchurch Independents group, for three planning committees to be set up.

She said that having just one was “unsatisfactory” as it did not take into account the “distinctive and diverse nature of each town.”

But the idea was dismissed by the chair of BCP Council’s committee, Cllr David Kelsey, who said: “Having three separate committees is cumbersome, it’s costly and it’s time-consuming.”

The proposal was defeated by 38 votes to 36 at a meeting of the BCP Council.

Meanwhile, a consultant costing £1,500 has been employed by a cross-party initiative in Christchurch to investigate the feasibility of the three BCP Council towns having their own planning committees.

Jo Witherden will be carrying out the study after the proposal was agreed.

Her work is being paid for by the four parish councils in Christchurch: Highcliffe and Walkford, Christchurch Town, Burton, and Hurn.

Cllr Margaret Phipps said of the new initiative: “There is a lot of concern in Christchurch that the current system is simply not protecting the unique character of the borough and there needs to a rethink.

“We feel the vast majority of residents will feel as we do that the borough needs a planning board system that more fairly reflects the needs and wishes of the residents, and not one where out of the 15 members, all but two are from outside Christchurch and have little knowledge or understanding of it.

“I am grateful to the parish councils for agreeing to fund this study.

“They agree it is incredibly important for the future of the boroughs.”

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