Ringwood Social Club says 'nuts' planning fight has cost £50,000
That’s the word the secretary of Ringwood Social Club has used to describe an eight-year planning battle with New Forest District Council that has left it £50,000 out of pocket and worried for its future.
Despite it being more than two years since NFDC approved the club’s plan to revamp its West Street base, not a brick has yet been laid – and the club has laid the blame on the council.
Secretary Helen Homewood claims the authority’s conditions have been obscure and very difficult to achieve.
Demands have been made for expensive brickwork to be used, and the demolition of part of the building was halted halfway through by the council over concerns about paperwork, which left the club unlocked and open to the elements for a four-month period over winter.
More than two years after the initial approval, Mrs Homeward said, the council requested the club appoint a specialist conservation architect firm in addition to the firm it was already instructing.
It did as instructed, but the plans put forward by the specialists have been deemed not good enough.
Both firms are still employed by the club, meaning its costs have now eclipsed the £50,000 mark, she added, and the architects had been left baffled by the council’s actions.
It has put a huge downer on what is the club’s centenary year in 2019, for which members had hoped to have the building up and running to host numerous celebrations.
Its committee members are so enraged they have vowed to submit formal complaints to NFDC.
“We have come to the end of our tethers,” Mrs Homewood told the A&T. “What has happened is just, quite frankly, unbelievable. It’s nuts. We have been going round and round in circles.”
The saga began when the club mooted a revamp of its listed premises around eight years ago, and there followed a rocky patch during which the club submitting a series of plans that NFDC rejected.
But finally, four-and-a-half years later, in late 2016, the situation seemed resolved when the council finally passed one of the social club’s plans, although subject to conditions.
However, it proved to be a false dawn and the situation has remained largely unchanged since.
“We literally do not know what else to do,” said Mrs Homewood. “It’s an awful shame as the building is probably the only one in Ringwood that is solely built for the benefit of the community.
"But at the moment it’s not going to be in operation again.”
The club is close to Mrs Homeward’s heart; she has been a long-time member after her parents and grandparents, and held her wedding reception and a family christening there.
She claims there have been numerous meetings between the council and the club’s committee.
“We’ve actually got to the point where we see no point in our architects submitting papers because they’re only going to get rejected,” she said. “Basically, they do not know what they want but they are not going to stop until they get it!”
The final straw, Mrs Homewood continued, came after a showdown meeting between club members and NFDC planners last August.
“We actually got to the point where we said, ‘We don’t know what you want so you show us what you want and we’ll try and do it’,” she said.
“We made it clear to them we were giving it until Christmas to get an agreement or it had to stop. We are running out of money for the building.
“They said okay, and we discussed what would be acceptable and they agreed on a design and the materials and said, ‘Come back with that’.
"We went back to them with exactly what they wanted and they’ve said it’s still not good enough.”
Mrs Homewood added: “We were really hoping to have it open this year as it’s going to be the 100th birthday of the club. We are trying to save it [the club] but we’re having to battle our own council.”
At the latest Ringwood Town Council meeting, the mayor, Cllr Tony Ring, said town councillors were aware a complaint was imminent, and had done their best to assist.
A New Forest District Council spokesperson confirmed it has been notified a formal grievance will be made.
She added: “We are aware that Ringwood Social Club are not intending to conclude the remaining few matters that would allow the development to commence and that they intend to submit a formal complaint as to how the applications have been dealt with.
“The council take all such complaints very seriously and undertake a thorough investigation as to the matters raised.
"In these circumstances it would be inappropriate to comment further as to the details of the case.”