When the former Webb’s chicken processing factory closed down, the Lymington Society took the view that its unique riverside site offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the town. We were therefore pleased to be invited by the New Forest District Council to contribute to the drafting of Supplementary Planning Guidance for the redevelopment of the site. From the outset we took the view that the site should not become another dense dormitory but should be developed in a way which opens the riverside to the whole town and vice versa, with buildings which reflect the Georgian character of the town rising on the hill behind it and the nature of the surrounding National Park.
The supplementary guidance, when completed, included a request to link the site to the town as much as possible and also to provide employment or at least commercial businesses on the site.
At that stage the government was pressing for high-density development and a proposal was put forward by the then developers for a mixed-use development with 205 private dwellings, 93 affordable dwellings and 10 live/work units; a total of 308 dwellings. In addition the proposal sought a 100 bed hotel (later changed to a care home), a restaurant, office accommodation and one retail unit. The proposal included a pedestrian bridge over the railway and a riverside walkway.
The plan envisaged ten large interlinked blocks of four storeys under steep pitched roofs in a style which, apart from its height, did reflect to some extent the visual style of the Georgian roofscape on the hill behind. This proposal was opposed by the Society as too dense, but the application was nevertheless granted on 8th June 2005, with certain conditions attached.
Redevelopment was held up by the recession, and the site was sold by Paxton Holdings to Redrow. Access across the railway line for both pedestrians and wheeled traffic, essential if the site is to be successfully integrated into the town but always an intractable problem, held up progress but seems now to have been solved. Meanwhile Redrow, engaged MJP Architects, a leading London firm whose buildings “aim to delight both client and users and respect and enhance the surrounding landscape or urban environment”, to look again at the site. Sir Richard McCormack gave a presentation to which both local Councillors and the Society’s committee were invited. Those present were impressed by the proposed new layout of the site, which included a direct link to the town by a bridge over the railway from the station, thus opening up the most important feature of the river frontage. On the other hand, we were disappointed that there was to be only a marginal reduction in the number of dwellings, and that the buildings would apparently be monolithic blocks with flat roofs, dominating and contrasting with the town behind, particularly when seen from the National Park across the river. The buildings have not yet been designed in detail but the concept has been available for inspection.
The Society’s view is that whilst the scheme may be an outstanding example of modern architecture in the right setting, an historic Georgian riverside town set in the New Forest National Park can not be that setting, and that Lymington’s traditional architecture would be either in conflict with the mass of the new development or overwhelmed by it.
Redrow intend to carry out a public consultation to test local opinion, which will be held on 14th August. While they are to be complimented on the fact of consulting the public, the Society is concerned that the potential result will be to demonstrate to the Local Planning Authority that the public prefer one alternative to the other, whereas we believe it likely that neither is likely to have substantial public support.
The Society’s position, which we think reflects that of most people in the town, remains that a dense development of four-storey flats, which will add substantially to the town’s population and congestion without any commensurate increase in its infrastructure, and that in the changed circumstances of 2010, neither the approved plan nor the current MJP proposal, is the best that could be achieved for the town or the National Park from this unique site. The Committee of the Lymington Society, hope that this background is helpful to Society members and to the wider public when considering their response to the consultation.
I hope there will be a large turnout of the public at the consultation. If anyone would like further information on this proposal from the Lymington Society please contact any of the committee members shown on the Society’s website.