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Old oak tree faces axe under new housing scheme

Three planning applications considered, three unanimous planning approvals for building affordable accommodation, redeveloping Gosport Marina, and dormer windows in a conservation area. Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas reports on proceedings at Gosport Borough Council’s Regulatory Board …

FELLING a 136-year-old oak tree to make way for affordable accommodation to be built in the Hardway area of Gosport was the subject of debate and negotiation at Gosport Borough Council’s Regulatory Board.

Thorngate Churcher Trust – which in various forms has been providing sheltered accommodation and residential care in the town since the 1870s – had identified land at the corner of Grove Road and Sealark Road for 39 assisted living flats in a part two-storey, part three-storey building.

The planning officers’ report to the board recommended the scheme be approved even though the site is a protected ‘Open Space’ – which hosts various protected species such as slow worms and badgers – and there is a preservation order on the oak tree near the perimeter on Grove Road.

The Trust and its co-applicant the Amiri Group Limited had offered to pay the “reasonable” sum of £10,000 to mitigate the loss of open space – the money to be spent on improving recreational and other areas in Hardway – and would be required to relocate the slow worms.

Not enough trees to prevent carbon deficit

The loss of the oak tree – estimated by Councillor Diane Furlong (Conservative, Hardway) to be 136 years old – came in for particular scrutiny with Thorngate Churcher Chief Executive Anne Taylor – who made a deputation to explain the application – saying it was not possible to design the building to retain the oak tree and the privacy of nearby residents.

A second mitigation sum of £2,000 had been agreed with the planning officers which they considered, “could be used to plant four or five substantial trees in Grove Road Recreation Ground that would then be under council control and management”.

Board member Councillor Marcus Murphy (Conservative, Rowner & Holbrook) asked: “What was the point of tree [preservation] orders if they are not adhered to?”. But the officers’ report stated: “The tree has lost a major limb that has reduced its amenity value. If the tree were to be considered for protection now it would be a border line case as to whether it merited protection.”

Councillor Stephen Hammond (Liberal Democrat, Bridgemary North) raised the issue of climate change and, citing expert advice, said it takes time for young trees to absorb carbon dioxide so that “there will be a deficit in carbon absorption in the early years”.

To overcome this, he asked for the number of trees established in mitigation of losing the oak tree be increased and this was accepted by the applicants with the discussion being around a doubling of the payment to £4,000 for six to eight trees.

Despite 19 letters of objection to the original plans and 12 to the amended proposals for the development – including concerns about contamination of the land, the design of the building not in keeping with the area, and loss of privacy for properties close to the site – the application received unanimous approval, subject to a Section 106 agreement and 19 conditions.

Gosport Marina carpark redevelopment

Loss of privacy also underpinned objections to the application by Premier Marinas Limited to redevelop the car park area of Gosport Marina with full permission sought for enlarging the STS Defence Limited building, constructing a two-storey Marina Facilities Building which will house offices, showers and a restaurant, and moving the dry stack southwards to leave room for a later development of 70 flats.

Deputations, including by both of the Town ward councillors – June Cully (Labour) and Lesley Meenaghan (Conservative) – argued that the residential amenity of residents in the nearby Viewpoint and The Quarterdeck blocks of flats would be significantly reduced and asked board members to visit the site in order to understand the concerns.

However, when Mr Hammond took up the request, no other board member was in favour – there was no seconder for his proposal.

‘Loss of views… not material considerations’

Reacting to points made in written submissions, the officers’ report noted: “Objections raised in respect of this proposal have raised concerns with regard to property values, loss of views and the use of a more environmentally friendly forklift on site. These matters are not material considerations and as such are not able to be considered in the assessment of this application.”

Councillors spent little time discussing the application before the officers’ recommendation to grant approval – subject to Section 106 agreement and 29 conditions, including 1.75-metre-high privacy screens on the south east end of the Marina Facilities Building balcony and a 10pm curfew on the public using the balcony to protect the privacy of Quarterdeck residents – was accepted unanimously.

After the meeting, Gosport Marina Manager Jonathan Walcroft said he was pleased to receive the go ahead: “The plans also reflects [sic] Premier’s ongoing commitment to investing in the regeneration of Gosport – the development will bring significant benefits to the local community including supporting the creation of new jobs.”

The final application considered by the Regulatory Board – concerning two rear dormers at 20 Atkinson Close, Gosport – was unanimously approved with no discussion.

Photo (top): the 136-year-old oak tree, Grove Road, Gosport

Also, see earlier report:  Trust gets go-ahead