Chairman’s Report for the AGM 21st March 2007

Ladies and gentlemen can I welcome you all to this Annual General Meeting of the Lymington Society.

Bill Hope-Jones

This year the meeting is not formally opened as in former years by our late President, Bill Hope Jones. He was our President for many years. Last year I announced that he was no longer attending Committee meetings nor the AGM. Sadly, he died before Christmas. I am sorry that there has not been a greater public recognition of the benefits he brought to this Town, by his involvement in setting up the Community Centre and being a founder member of the Lymington Society.

New President

Last year I also had to announce that my battle to retain Peter Chitty as an active member and Treasurer of the Committee had finally been lost and he had persuaded me to accept his resignation. I am pleased to say that we have secured his services in another guise and he has kindly agreed to be our new President.

The Secretary has guided us through the appropriate election procedures during the formalities. Well what a year it has been! Having been through the usual subject including the Webbs Site, in my last annual report for the 4th April 2006 Annual General Meeting I never dreamt so much would have happened before the next Annual General Meeting.

Public Meeting

Very soon after the last meeting there was enormous dissatisfaction over the manner in which the Waterford Lane planning application was passed and at the same moment McCarthy and Stone decided to make an application for a monstrous building on the corner of Avenue Road and Southampton Road

I well remember the pressure under which I was placed to do something over the Waterford Lane application, and at the same time I saw on the NFDC website the size of the proposed building at the junction of Avenue Road in Southampton Road.

Another public meeting was clearly in order to obtain our members and the Town’s views on these important planning issues following on from the precedent of our extremely successful public meeting over the Webbs Site a couple of years earlier.

The meeting took place on 21st June last and whilst I had expected to have one or two Councillors, we were all impressed by the fact that many members from the NFDC turned up and more would have come from the Town Council, if it had not clashed with a planning meeting.

I and Don Mackenzie opened the meeting and, after several questions from the floor, Mel Kendal, the Leader of the Council, took the floor to explain the Council’s position. One of the things they made very clear was that money was not an issue in relation to the opposition to unwarranted planning applications and that they were prepared to take on appeals when necessary. Chris Elliott, the Chief Planning Officer, followed that with an explanation of the difficulties faced by the Planning Officers. There were more questions and the meeting went on well beyond when most of the members of the audience should have been in bed.

The meeting was well publicised and Don McKenzie had a spot on in local television and I think rumours of our meeting even got as far as Government Departments. It filled three rooms in the Community Centre.

Petition leads to Society being Invited to Become Involved

As a result of that meeting and the petition which was circulated at the meeting and afterwards amounting to 1700 signatures Mel Kendal invited us to a Council meeting in October to present the petition formally to the Council.

The resolution passed at that meeting reads as follows:

“Design which is inappropriate in its context, or which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions should not be accepted.”

And I hope this is having a direct influence on Officers’ recommendations and the Council members’ decisions by relieving the pressure to build high-density developments in residential areas in Lymington.

Southampton Road

At this very moment the Site which was so much in our minds that evening has now been refused by the NFDC and has gone for an Appeal, which is being heard at a Public Inquiry today and tomorrow. Your Committee Members have spent some time putting together their proofs of evidence in relation to this Appeal. It is a landmark Appeal. We have the disadvantage that the Council, without allowing any real input from the townspeople allowed two big developments in Avenue Road which are now built.

I think it is accepted that those approvals were a mistake. I hope and believe the Council has learnt from its mistake. However, those developments are there and we have to persuade the Inspector that those developments should not have an affect on the current application. The current Application is so gross in its size, that I hope the Inspector will dismiss it. In preparing for this Appeal I can say that the Council have now started to ask for our cooperation and support in opposing this Appeal.

The appeal is under way at the moment and Don McKenzie gave very good evidence this afternoon on the impact of the site on various factors such as need, the effect on the age balance in the community, the impact on the infrastructure, traffic problems and diversity.

I will give evidence tomorrow on the impact of the application on the overall character of the area and Ivor Johnston will talk about the impact of so many additional elderly people on the medical services in the town. I can say that the way in which the developers have approached this Appeal already is to hammer home the fact of the precedents of the two new developments on either side of Avenue Road allowed by the Council without any input from local residents. The Council are on the back foot and say that these were allowed prior to the current design standards being introduced. We however can roundly criticise the Council, as we have in the past, for allowing these buildings to be built, which we knew would give rise to this sort of application for bigger and bigger developments

One of the benefits of an independent body such as ours is that we can say things which may not be quite so politically correct as the statements that need to be made by the Council, and in doing so we can possibly more accurately reflect the real feelings of the people of Lymington. They are having to watch the character of the Town slowly but surely change from a small market town to a suburban Town into which all the modern features of urban living, including national chain stores and coffee shops, which are being drawn in by the increased population.

Whilst the Lymington Society cannot stand in the way of economic change it can try to ensure that the physical expression of that change is as much in keeping with the existing character of Lymington as possible by retaining its streetscapes. That character is retained in the Conservation Area by virtue of the Conservation Area policies, these do not apply in the surrounding urban areas. We have to be vigilant. There are other developments on the horizon which are a natural result of improvements to the Town. We now have a splendid new hospital, which has resulted in land being available for further development. That development must be in keeping with its surroundings.

Cannon Street School

Whilst we are co-operating as much as possible with the Council in encouraging them to reduce density, I have to say that one local difficulty has emerged. You are all no doubt aware of the Canon Street School Site. This was described in the Conservation Area as allowing views across to Walhampton. The Old School Building gave character to that part of Lymington and sat well with the new library which is now complemented by the new Community Hall.

However, to lose the school to another block of the modern style and dormer roof flats was to lose another part of Lymington’s character. Donald MacKenzie made our representations to the Council and attended the planning meeting in December.

We were distinctly dissatisfied with the outcome of that meeting and the way in which the decision was made for various reasons. These include the obvious interest the NFDC had in the sale price through its sister local authority the Hampshire County Council which was selling to the Swaythling Housing Association at a price based on the number of units granted.

The Planning Meeting seemed to make the decision on the number of units in the scheme itself. Permission for the demolition of the School, which was a separate application, seemed to follow without any further discussion. There has been no serious attempt to see whether the School can be retained either for community uses, as actually intended in a previous local authority document, or incorporated into a new development.

The upshot of this was that as the contractors moved in we received a barrister’s advice that there were grounds to say that the Council’s decision should be objected to under the Judicial Review process. I can say therefore that as from last Monday you as members of our committee are litigants with the New Forest District Council in the High Court.

However, before you are horrified at the prospect, can I say that we are able to continue a dialogue with the Chief Planning Officer and now the Council’s legal representative which will lead us to further meetings our respective legal advisors so that we can decide whether the Council can satisfy our legal concerns about this decision, and if not we will obviously revert to the members for a decision as to what further action we take.

At this stage the stop press news that of course during the course today the school has disappeared. The council had been aware of our position four-week and have taken no steps to prevent the contractors demolishing it. We had assumed that they would have made some representations to the contractors but possibly they’re in a position to do so. We are in no position to obtain injunction because injunction requires an undertaking to pay damages if we are wrong and we do not have the resources to pay the sort of damages that might arise from delaying a development of this nature whilst a judicial review goes through.

I intend that our barrister and the council’s barrister will meet to see whether we are satisfied whether our barrister continues to advise us that the Council’s procedures in this application were flawed. If so we will consider what other avenues are open to us.

Whilst this has been a difficult decision for the Committee to take, the Committee has been unanimous in deciding that if we do have expert planning advice to the effect that the decision is flawed, it is our duty on behalf of our members and the population of Lymington to try to take action if a significant building in the conservation area is threatened .

Webb Site

Every year I mention the Webb Site but this year it has been relatively dormant while Appeal goes through over the question of the change of use from the hotel to a care home. That Appeal is now fixed for 21st April and we will make representations on the basis that the area should not become a dormitory for old people and should have some vitality. However, our position on the Webb Site has been that we feel that the Council were going to agree to excessive density and the lack of mixed uses on the Site and that if there was an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, that would be no bad thing.

Social Events

Last year I was also able to announce the start of the regular social programme having held a couple of social meetings by the time of the last AGM. Since the last AGM we have had a full social programme which has been well supported and will be reported on by the Nigel Seth-Smith our Social Secretary.

For those of you who missed the social events or did not come to as many events as you would have liked, I hope you will attend more this year. They are extremely good value. They enable the Committee to meet the members and to gauge their feelings and to enable the members to liaise with the Committee.Our thanks go to Nigel Seth-Smith and his Committee and to those who hosted some of the events.

New Committee Member

Last year I probably caused sufficient embarrassment by naming and shaming the other members of the Committee and I will not do so again but I will repeat that this year has been an extremely active year and has been very demanding for the Committee. We have a new member, Rose Tainsh, who was very instrumental on her own behalf, and as a Society Member, in coordinating local opposition to the Bath Road Planning Application which was rightly refused on Appeal by a Planning Inspector during the course of last year.

Speaker

Finally, I am very pleased to welcome Tim Kermode as our speaker tonight. Here is another topical subject on the question of climate change and how it will affect Lymington particularly so far as rising sea levels are concerned. Tim is the Environment Agency Area Flood Risk Manager and I shall introduce him more fully in due course.

Ladies and gentleman, thank you.

Clive Sutton

Chairman Lymington Society 

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