SENIOR planners at the national park authority defended proposals to earmark land in villages around the New Forest for building around 180 new homes.
Development space has been proposed in Lyndhurst, Ashurst, Sway and Calshot as part of the NPA’s draft Local Plan containing policies setting out how 800 dwellings can be built by 2036.
The authority was forced to explain its choices when the 122-page keystone strategy was assessed by planning inspectors at the two-week examination in public at Lymington town hall, which concluded last Thursday.
The most high-profile site is the Lyndhurst Park Hotel, on the edge of Lyndhurst, which has been allocated for 50 dwellings, including tourism and residential, alongside conserving “heritage assets” of the current run-down building, parts of which date back to about 1810.
Executive director for strategy and planning Steve Avery explained: “We see this as a residentially-led scheme. Given the site’s location in what is referred to as the capital of the New Forest, it’s important to retain its economic and community functions.”
Planning policy manager David Illsley explained there was little development land as Lyndhurst was surrounded by bird-conservation Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which bar new homes within 400 metres.
“We did not want for be in a position where we could not have a positive allocation in our plan for a big brownfield site. It was not tenable to say to people, you will be looking at a mess for 10 years because we were not bringing it forward,” he said.
As a site which could still potentially re-open as a 60-bed hotel with hundreds of guests, he said it was justified in being an exception to the SPA limitations – although he later admitted the NPA was awaiting formal advice from Natural England.
The plot is owned by Pegasus Life which is preparing to fight an appeal in January for 75 retirement flats and 15 affordable homes. They were refused by the NPA amid 800 objections following a previously rejected bid for 74 apartments and a dozen holiday homes.
Speaking for Pegasus, Alex Bulloch said it now had “no aspirations” for tourism there, and despite being above the 50 homes desired by the NPA, its retirement scheme offered lower-impact homes that would free-up family dwellings to help meet local housing need.
He claimed Historic England had opted four times not to list the building, which would be demolished under its plans. “We want to bring it forward as soon as possible,” he said.
The NPA has set a target of 50% affordable housing on all proposals above two dwellings, which must also not exceed 100 square metres’ floorspace to preserve the stock of small homes.
Sixty homes allocated in Ashurst for a field east of Whartons Lane drew criticism from villagers, including the parish council and the Keep Ashurst and Colbury Green campaign group.
They voiced concerns about flooding, traffic, parking and the risk of setting a precedent for local development that could shrink the green gap between Ashurst and Totton.
The Friends of the New Forest (Formerly the New Forest Association) raised the potential loss of back-up grazing for commoners, despite the field not currently being used as such.
Mr Illsley said another site nearby off Knellers Lane had been dropped specifically to prevent urban spread. The highway authority, Hampshire County Council, had raised no concerns about traffic or parking on the lane, he added.
He assured: “Outside this allocation, we have pretty restrained policies. The Local Plan does not open the door to speculative development proposals.”
There was a bid by the NHS at the hearing to add a fresh allocation at its Ashurst Hospital site, where it wants to keep the maternity unit and dispose of two buildings for the development of about 30 homes with the potential for care facilities too.
Speaking for NHS Property Services, Julian Bloitho compared the site to the Lyndhurst Park Hotel as justifying another departure from SPA rules.
He said: “We have a shortfall of housing need and a brownfield site that well-related to local facilities and could deliver an element of housing to meet those needs.”
Mr Illsley warned of “major issues” with the viability of the site which, as a hospital, he argued generated much less activity than that of the former Lyndhurst Park Hotel.
Mr Avery added: “We do not have the confidence or assurance for this site yet. It may come forward in the future but we are a long way from there now.”
In Sway 40 homes have been allocated for a field south of Church Lane, next to a proposed swathe of public open space of the same size.
The housing site had been planned to about twice the size before strict advice by Natural England on SPAs in 2017 forced the NPA to make a string of changes to the first version of the Local Plan.
Sway Parish Council chair Cllr Stephen Tarling criticised the scale of the proposals as “not in keeping with a New Forest village” and wanted the homes reduced to 28. He also questioned the potential loss of back-up grazing.
Mr Illsley responded: “This is a tricky issue because any field in the New Forest has the potential to be back-up grazing land. This has not been used as back-up land for over 30 years.
“We’re looking at a modest development of 1.5-2 hectares and we feel we have to factor in our housing need. This parish has a significant need and this could factor into it.”
He added that villagers’ concerns about the extra traffic causing congestion had not been matched by HCC, which had raised no objection.
Thirty homes have also been allocated in Calshot, on land south of the B3054, which is currently owned by New Forest District Council and earmarked for a cemetery.
The properties are part of the 1,500-home masterplan for redeveloping of the former Fawley power station by Fawley Waterside Ltd, the consortium fronted by local landowner Aldred Drummond.
It will host an exhibition of the 30-home plans in the village at St George’s Church in Calshot Road between 4pm and 8pm on Thursday 6th December.
As reported in the A&T, previously at the examination the NPA was accused by the Friends of the New Forest of giving away space within the national park’s boundary for 120 dwellings, as part of the power station scheme which is mostly under NFDC’s planning jurisdiction.
Fawley Waterside Ltd said the nearly £1bn project would not reach its 20% profit target without the extra space. Senior NPA planning officials said the plans were intended to be of such high quality that parts of the development could be later merged into the national park.
It also emerged HCC had not confirmed the requirement for a £6m primary school which, if built, would be located south of the development in Calshot.