Chairman’s Report for the 2011 AGM

Ladies and gentlemen,

I well remember my father as a parish priest scratching his head for a theme for his sermon. I do the same in a secular way every year for the Lymington Society Annual General Meeting. This year I received a call yesterday afternoon from a helpful committee member, which reminded me of the AGM today. At the time I was in the process of clearing out an enormous amount of excess papers and in my hand were Lymington Society papers going back 10 years which reminded me that I had been asked to become Chairman in May 2001.

Many of you will remember the previous Acting Chairman Leslie Dry, who in asking for new committee members in his Acting Chairman’s report for March 2001 said: “It is essential if the Association is to continue, to find new officers for the coming Annual General Meeting and I would urge members to offer themselves for committee service since the Lymington Society is really the only forum to defend the Town against the overwhelming pressures of development”.

How right he was and I hope you agree that that is what the Society has done in the intervening 10 years.

In my first report to the members in October 2001, I said: “I would like to see the Society being not only reactive to proposals but also constructive and, where appropriate, supportive of the council’s planning policies. If however, we feel the policies, or individual applications, are wrong, we will be vociferous in opposing them”.

In the next paragraph I said: “One of the major current planning it is the future of the Webb Site. This is something on which I think and I believe the Society and its membership can have an important voice”.

Enough of quoting from the past, but I think it is interesting to go back every now and then to see where one started from and see what has been achieved in the light of that. Here are a few milestones from the past 10 years.

There was the Society’s contribution to the 2001 Supplemental Planning Guidance on the Webb Site, sadly largely ignored by the granting of the original Webb Site planning permission by the then councillors.

There was the first public meeting by the then developers, Paxtons, explaining their proposals, at which Paxtons said that, if they had been encouraged to meet the Society and its membership before developing their plans, they would have taken into account numerous of the points made by the members and the public at that meeting.

There was the start of planning applications for flats in our residential roads. These lead to another public meeting at which the planning officers and councillors were present, and which started a sea change in their thinking. The situation has been like stopping a super tanker, and I think we are now beginning to see official opposition to further flat developments in residential roads, but I’m afraid not without some significant change to the character of those roads having taken place. Change which has not inevitably and irrevocably changed Lymington’s character, but which could have done if loud opposition had not been voiced initially.

There have been issues over the ferries in which I hope the Society, in holding a public meeting, laid the ground for a level playing field preventing Wightlink from getting away entirely with a fait-accompli, and in respect of which the debate still continues.

Coming more up-to-date: in the last year, there has been the recent cooperation with the council officers over Local Distinctiveness, where the efforts put in by our committee members have led to the character of the town being reflected in the Local Distinctiveness Guidance, which will now inform planning decisions, and planning inspectors who come to review those decisions.

Even more up-to-date, and there has been the part played by the Society in the issue over Wetherspoons and the wholehearted opposition by the community to a “destination” public house immediately adjacent to our parish church and churchyard. Our efforts, with others, led to a unanimous vote by councillors against this, and our efforts will have to be renewed again for the inevitable new application, lodged in these cases in the hope that our opposition will be worn down by having to go through the whole process again.

Through all these issues I have tried to encourage the committee members to be objective, and they have responded. We are not a campaign group. There are other such groups, for example the groups set up to oppose the Redrow development and the Lymington River Users Group set up to oppose the ferries. Our objective is to ensure that the planning process works fairly and, where we do not feel the right decision is being made, to oppose that decision; and not only to oppose that decision but to encourage the right decision to be made.

An example of this is the Wellworthy Club site, where we encouraged a better effort by the developers, which they responded to with an Art Deco development, but which unfortunately was just too much for the site. We hope that the third proposal now being built will reflect the character of that site.

I can’t say that the development at the traffic lights has been one of our best successes but at least one can say that the building merges into the remainder of Southampton Road to the north without being able to set a precedent for further similar redevelopment up Southampton Road. We wait to see the results of Colton’s redevelopment opposite, having said goodbye to the old landmark of Buckland House.

That leads back to the thorny subject of the Webb’s chicken factory site exactly 10 years on. I would like to encourage everyone now to call it the Redrow site, at least in recognition of the effort which that company have put into trying to improve on the original Paxton’s planning permission. I said earlier how Paxton told us that, if the powers that be had not kept the Society apart from them as developers, then a lot of the issues raised could have been taken account of in the original plans.

Council policy has changed dramatically since then, and we have been involved with Redrow in their proposals. However, unfortunately, in trying to do something better Redrow engaged an architect who told me quite frankly that he only designed in square blocks. If only they had run that one past the Society before going ahead! Having realised their mistake, Redrow very fairly carried out a consultation which led to a final application with pitched roofs in a very individualistic style, which, however sympathetic one tries to be, just does not look as if it should be located in Lymington.

I go back to my first quotation: “If, however, we feel the policies or individual applications are wrong, we will be vociferous in opposing them”. We have every sympathy for Redrow’sefforts but the end result has to be right for Lymington. With that in mind we think the right way forward is to call another public meeting to be held on 4 April for everyone’s views to be aired and we will be inviting Redrow and councillors and planning officers to that meeting. Don Mackenzie will be giving you more of the background details of the applications as a preliminary to that meeting.

(The public meeting referred to here did indeed take place, and is referred to elsewhere on the website- ed)

Of the 10th anniversary of the new committee of the Society can I again record the efforts of those who do so much on a daily basis and on whom I can entirely rely to carry out theirduties.

Peter Chitty, our President and wise head. It’s not what he says, but what he doesn’t say, that I rely on.

Ivor Johnston, our Secretary keeping the paperwork and the correspondence in order and hosting our monthly meetings.

Don Mackenzie, our press officer who fires us up when necessary.

Nic King, who has dealt with the planning for so long.

Jonathan Hutchinson, who has recently put in so much detailed effort on the planning side and makes a fantastic team with Nic King.

Derek Sheffer, who manages the accounts and the subscriptions and membership so quietly and efficiently.

Nigel Seth-Smith, who manages the website and edits the newsletter to a form where my office photocopier produces it at the touch of a button.

I am very thankful not to be in the position of Leslie Dry 10 years ago who indicated that without fresh blood in the committee the Society was at risk of being able to continue. We may need changes and fresh blood in the future but at the moment this committee is firing on all cylinders and reacting to every challenge. I hope you will continue to give it your support.

Clive Sutton, Society Chairman

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