Chairman’s Report for the AGM 18th March 2009

Ladies and gentlemen. 

Those of you were who were at this meeting last year will remember that Peter Chitty read my address to you and I’m grateful to him for having done that.

This year, as the time came round to the Annual General Meeting, I thought to myself last Friday morning, “What has the Lymington Society done this year which I can share with the members” .

As soon as I had scanned the Lymington Times for the 14th of March the answer was clear.  In that paper they were at least four these items in which the Lymington Society is actively involved, if not in the news, then behind the news.

“CHAOS AS HIGH WINDS HALT NEW FERRIES”.  The Lymington Society was obviously not responsible for the high winds or the chaos, but what that headline indicates is the way in which the Harbour Commissioners are stringently monitoring the introduction of the new ferries.

I appreciate that everyone has mixed views about the introduction of these large ferries.  I would imagine when members heard my report last year about the very recent issue of the ferries people might have thought that there had been a degree of exaggeration in their size.  I think any such question is now dispelled.  They are very large, and the windage in high winds will mean that there has to be a large amount of sideways thrust onto the banks of the River to keep them in position.

The Society’s position has been consistent throughout; to ensure that the various statutory bodies have complied with their responsibilities and have not allowed Wightlink’s construction of the ferries, in advance of any approvals, to be a rubber stamp for their decisions.  One of the most difficult tasks has been to find who is responsible for making the decisions and to engage with them in a realistic way.

During the course of the year the Solent Protection Society, who are really the lead voluntary organisation responsible, have changed their position from acceptance to criticism and some of you may have seen the Chairman of the Solent Protection Society on the television, when the ferries were introduced without permission and without warning, expressing their opposition.  Some of our Committee members would say, “All very welcome but a bit late in the day” .

The decisions on the ferries will take their course and you may be aware that there is a judicial review application by the Lymington River Association taking place at this moment.  I can say that the Committee did not feel it appropriate to go as far as joining in legal proceedings in relation to the ferries partly because of exposure to costs and partly because that would place us in an active opposition to the ferries which has not been the basis of policy.

You should remember that when the Committee first became involved, the issue of the ferries was effectively accepted by the Solent Protection Society, the yacht clubs and to a certain extent the Harbour Commissioners and it has been significantly due to the Society’s efforts started at our public meeting at the end of 2007 which has raised the profile of these issues.

When I say the Society’s efforts I have to qualify that by saying: Donald MacKenzie’s efforts on behalf of the Society, supported, albeit at times reluctantly, by the Committee.  But I can say at this stage the Committee are satisfied with the Society’s position, and grateful for Don’s efforts, in that the regulators all are fully engaged and hopefully the final decisions will be transparent.

Next on page 12 of the paper is the headline “LANDMARK HOMES DEVELOPMENT ON WELLWORTHY  CLUB SITE REFUSED”.

I hope you will link this with the last edition of the Society’s newsletter at page 5 where, for the first time, the Committee tried to engage the members in opinions on a new and important proposal for the town.  You had my view and Ivor Johnston’s view and were asked to send or e-mail your views to Ivor Johnston.

Although we have approximately 400 members I have to say I was slightly disappointed that or we only had seven replies; some of those I believe from non-members.  It is going to be my intention in the future to ask the membership for their views on controversial schemes where the decision may not be entirely clear, so that in giving representations to the planners or other bodies we can say that we have taken into account the views of our members.  If you get a similar appeal in the future do please respond.

In this case the view that I suspected would prevail, that this building was magnificent but in the wrong place, did in fact prevail with both the Town Council and the Planning Committee, and it has been rejected.  However the background to that application does show the constructive dialogue which a developer can have with the Committee.  We were approached by the developers on an earlier proposal which was as big, but bland, and we suggested something more of a landmark building.  the architect came back to visit the Committee with the current proposal which, impressive as it is, is not quite going to hit the right note at that position set against the surrounding houses and the rest of the Town’s Georgian character .

Moving on in the Newspapers supplement we have “BUILDERS FACE BIG BILL AS BID TO KEEP TOO HIGH HOMES REFUSED”.  This is a reference to the new building which I now understand is known as a Rapunzel’s Tower by local residents, which is at the corner of Avenue Road and Lower Buckland Road .

The history of this is that this application was actively opposed by the Society at an earlier application and appeal.  On the basis of stating the Society’s position, without fear or favour, I have to say that the new application went through on the basis of delegated powers to the council officers because the new application was not opposed by the then Lymington Town Council.  The Society have raised, and will continue to raise, questions as to how a building of this size and nature could go through on delegated powers without the consideration of the elected planning councillors, regardless of any other factors.

This building firstly clashes with the character of the residential homes in Avenue Road and, possibly worse, overshadows the buildings on the other side of Buckland Road.  The current issue is the fact that the building is larger and higher than the approved plans. At last councillors are starting to reflect the views of local residents as to the sort of buildings that should be erected although those decisions can still of course be challenged before planning inspectors.  I feel that the efforts of the Lymington Society over the past eight years or so, to make representations against this sort of development, has supported some new councillors with views in tune with the local community to get onto the planning Committee.

Our opposition was led by Jonathan Hutchinson saying that the development was a striking example of the desecration of the area.  He is quoted as saying “This building is a standing reproach to the inability of the planning system to prevent developers from turning this old market town into a cod version of the celebrity retreat of Sandbanks.  You have the power to insist this ugly pile does at least match the terms of consent for its construction.  I urge you to do so.”  I think you may be hearing more from Jonathan Hutchinson on other applications in a similar vein.

Finally we now have the notice that the decision to oppose the demolition and redevelopment of Buckland House, supported by the Society, is now subject to appeal.  This is a difficult decision on the basis that one might say that Buckland house would probably never have got planning permission in its day, but it is a landmark of Lymington prominently by the traffic lights and has some character appropriate to its age, and it is unfortunate if character is lost.  I was assured at the time of the original McCarthy and Stone planning application on the other side of the road that Buckland house had been bought as an administrative headquarters for local developers and that there was no question at that stage of the building being redeveloped.

Finally I regret to say that the battle over the McCarthy and Stone development on the other corner of Avenue Road and Southampton Road has now been lost so that we will have a joined up building going all the way along the length of the newly erected hoardings and round the corner, on the basis that as it is sheltered housing it needs to be one unit.

This, with the development of Buckland House if it is finally allowed on appeal, will produce a barrier of new building between the existing listed buildings of the lower part of Southampton Road and the traditional individual family houses of the upper part .

Finally on the question of development generally, the Society feel the time has come, with the present possible pause in this rate of development due to economic circumstances, to take stock of the development that has occurred in Lymington and which is threatened, with a view to there being a policy for remaining undeveloped areas.  The Committee want to involve the membership in a meeting to consider that at some stage in the future.

The Society is not only preoccupied with development and ferries and business matters but provides opportunities for members to socialise.  One of most enjoyable meetings this year was at Buckland Rings on a thankfully fine day in the summer where members were able to go all the way round the Rings, following Joanna Close-Brooks’ talk at the last AGM, and appreciate such an important historical site within Lymington and what is currently being done there.  We also had a garden party at Buckland, Christmas drinks at Stanwell House, and a view of the Women’s Land Army exhibition at the Museum.

That brings me to the effort made to print the newsletter, organised by Nigel Seth-Smith, and which has settled into a comfortable routine for printing now that I have got an all-singing all-dancing colour printer for my office.  Thanks also to the distributors of the newsletter.

Our informal arrangement or association with the Pennington Residents Association is continuing well with representation on our Committee meetings by one of their Committee members on a regular basis so that each organisation knows of the other’s concerns and can co-operate and assist.

Looking at my last report I took the opportunity in my absence to compliment the Committee on their work.  I will not bore you again with the details but I repeat how grateful I am to the fact that the individuals on the Committee are so active and can be relied on to deal with their responsibilities.  I would like to make particular reference to the responsibilities that Jonathan Hutchinson is taking on in respect of planning and his team-work with Nic King on that aspect.  We have also welcomedMarion Jakes onto the Committee, who is taking a particular brief for matters involving the Solent, the foreshore and the marshes. All members offer themselves for election.

The subscription went up to £10 per member last year which is a satisfactory figure and is maintaining our finances.  The treasurer will report and I think our finances are healthy.

The Committee can only work with the knowledge that its members support its aims. We don’t seem to get too many complaints from members so we may be doing the right thing or perhaps the members are not particularly interested.

Today is your opportunity in the questions following this to make your comments, complimentary or otherwise, as to how the Society is complying with your expectations.

Finally can I make a short reference to the presentation that you will have tonight from the Lymington Forum through its representative Clifford Jakes, which replaces the talk from Sally Fear, who is unable to be here.

Clifford will outline the Forum’s position but so far as the Society is concerned the Forum is looking proactively at the future of Lymington whereas the Society tends to react to developments as they take place or we try to structure decisions affecting Lymington.  However our joint objectives are for the benefit of Lymington and therefore I would like to ensure that the Society gives the Forum every opportunity to tell the public, and in particular the Society’s members, of the Forum’s aims and proposals.  It is very convenient that the AGM is so close to the presentation of the Forum’s report. However in the time-honoured words of the small print, “the views of the Forum are not necessarily those of the Society.”

Ladies and gentlemen that brings my remarks to a conclusion and thank you for your continued support here tonight.

 

Clive Sutton

Chairman Lymington Society 

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