Chairman’s Address from AGM

cropped-logo_small.jpgLymington Society AGM March 2014

Chairman’s Address

Thank you all for coming. Last year I described 2012 as a welcome rest from all those major controversial issues such as the Ferries, Redrow and Wetherspoons. In 2013 again the business of the Society has been more routine.

One feels a bit guilty for not being in a maelstrom of controversy with public meetings being called to resolve important planning issues, but really the business of an amenity society should normally be a programme of watchfulness over planning matters and keeping up the interest of its membership and the population of the town generally in preserving and maintaining what we feel best reflects Lymington itself.

That is not to say that we do not appreciate the need for Lymington to continue to keep up with changing times and to continue to develop to provide the best environment. Our job is to try to ensure that this happens in such a way that the existing character of the Town is preserved as much as possible. Obviously the professional planners have the same duty but they are under greater pressure from developers to make changes and take things forward.

Our position is to try to balance the power and influence which can be brought in the planning process by commercial organisations whose primary duty is to the profits of their shareholders.

I think it is gratifying to see in Lymington the fact that the developers themselves, these days, are looking at development more from the aspect of the benefit to the general public as well as their commercial imperatives and it may be that the influence of a Society such as the Lymington Society and other amenity societies has played a part in this.

We obviously have one or two historical issues to contend with.

The Redrow site will be controversial until it is finished and we see its eventual impact, which I imagine will be a case of love it or hate it. That site started its development at a time when the commercial imperative was seen as the most important factor in the context of the background of the political landscape at the time. Our councillors at the beginning of the development conceded a very high density development, which was a factor which we had to contend with throughout the ensuing 10 years of further development proposals. That would not happen again without much more public involvement, and indeed consultation at the preplanning stage which has now become the norm for major developments.

A very interesting example of how the new thinking will apply has already been the encouragement of the Town Council to suggest the basis of a planning brief for the bus station redevelopment and we have already had discussions with an architect over that.

Another example will be the question of any potential proposals following the sale of Monmouth House which has been recently announced. This is one of the finest buildings in the central part of Lymington. Its days as a care home are obviously over because of the need to update modern facilities within an old building which cannot be changed sufficiently to accommodate new requirements. There will no doubt be interesting discussions about its new role. I can say that we were closely involved with proposals for its replacement Linden House in New Street which is opening shortly and which, however large it is, I think, is an improvement on the previous building on that site.

As I have said I major battles have receded into the past. Our involvement in the ferries and Wetherspoons are becoming a distant memory. Redrow continues to remind us of the decisions that had to be made. I continue to try to justify to myself how that waterfront site, which was almost hidden from view is now becoming such a prominent development. The answer is that the old industrial use ceased. The land was valuable as waterfront and was going to be developed. The question was how. Whatever the development, it was going to have to be significant to justify its value. At the moment we only have an impression of what is to come, some of which, possibly the building nearest the road, is somewhat startling. However the die is cast and we must wait to the end of the development to be able to the final result.

Not having had any headline activities to report this year I can now concentrate more on the routine work of the Committee. The most important aspect of that is planning research and representations. You only have to look at this year’s Newsletters to see the subjects which we have been involved in.

The Travis Perkins site, which has now finally been approved for development after the Lymington Society’s objections to the original plan were taken on board by the inspector, and the appropriate revisions made to the plans.

Input by Nick King into the NFDC sites and development management plan.

A small but significant issue is the Old Priestland’s Lodge in Milford Road where four houses were proposed but we recommended that was overdevelopment in that location and it should be reduced. The original application was withdrawn and hopefully will be resubmitted with less development.

These are just some of the subjects which are brought up to our meeting every month by Nick King who deals assiduously with planning matters.

The other ongoing successful activity of Society is the social programme which since the last AGM has included the extremely successful visit to the Berthon which impressed all our members with the scale of the work which was being carried out there and the extent of the employment and expertise created in the Town.

The summer garden party was the usual success as was the Christmas drinks at Stanwell house. The latest social event was a wine tasting and talk by Tim Phillips.

Tonight we hear about the progress being made at the Museum. The Society and the Museum have always worked very closely together in promoting Lymington’s interests. I was originally involved in setting up the Museum and Don MacKenzie is now a very active trustee of the Museum. There are some exciting development proposals which we will be hearing about tonight.

Future events will be a talk by Steve Akester entitled “From Lymington to Somalia, the Maldives and Beyond”. This is followed by the annual garden party, this year at 58 High Street courtesy of Mr and Mrs James McWhirter.

A recent initiative to which we are giving our support is the proposed restoration of the Burrard Neale Monument at Walhampton together with a clearance of and improvement of the grounds around it to restore the area and the view of it to its previous condition. It is the 250th anniversary of the death of Sir Harry Burrard Neale who was an important historical character and that sort of event can be a trigger for National Lottery funds to improve monuments and make them more accessible and friendly to local people. It is one of our members, Peter Stone, who has been instrumental in promoting this initiative and there is now a series of meetings and activities by the Town Council, ourselves and other interested parties to see the way forward and consultants are being engaged to carry out costings.

One of the points that will be drawn to your attention tonight is whether, and to what extent the Society, ought to be involved in committing a modest part of its funds to priming the pump for this project and indeed other projects where a small outlay of funds could be very useful to start such projects.

Obviously we are not a grant organisation and we can save up funds for times when we may need to spend them on major issues. However the Treasurer tells me that the funds are fairly healthy at the moment and as the Monument is so much a part of the character and history of Walhampton and Lymington, and in recent times has been underappreciated, this is a good opportunity to restore interest in it. The committee is balanced in its view as to whether funds should be committed for this purpose and I am interested to know from the members later on in the meeting whether this is something which the members feel will be a useful contribution from the Society’s modest annual subscription.

This project is in close coordination with the Town Council and others and brings me brings me on to the cooperation between ourselves and the Town Council. We had a very useful meeting at the end of last year during which I think it is true to say that the Council members were won over to the idea of a Neighbourhood Plan, although it was agreed that such a plan will have to await an opportune time. Such a time may come in the next couple of years when Lymington will be faced with a requirement for a significant increase in its housing which will probably lead to more greenfield developments and if that is the case then it seems right that the Towns people should be able take advantage of the rights under the Localism Act to be consulted in a neighbourhood plan process as to such important decisions.

That brings me to the people who make all this activity possible. Not myself I should add. My function is to watch, warn, encourage, advise and comment. The people I refer to are the other members of the Society’s committee who I have not had time to speak of in my recent addresses due to the importance of other matters.

Let me remind you that we have a President, Peter Chitty, who I rely on for his wise thoughts bearing in mind that his involvement in the Society goes back beyond mine. He warns me that during the course of next year, his health may dictate that we may be looking for another president.

Coupled with Peter Chitty is Ivor Johnson, who with Peter was the link between the previous committee in the 90s and the Committee which was formed following my chairmanship 10 years or more ago. His sensible Secretaryship throughout that time has been a great help and it has always been an encouragement to me to know that he will never write anything on behalf of the Society which I will live to regret. I have to announce to night that Ivor has finally decided that, whilst he can continue to host committee meetings, and hopefully will remain as a committee member, he cannot continue to fulfil the formal functions of Honorary Secretary and we will therefore be drawing the short straws for this duty at our next committee meeting.

Next is the Membership Secretary and Treasurer, Derek Sheffer, also a very safe pair of hands who has restored the finances since they have been plundered in the past for legal fees.

Then the people who make up the engine room of the Committee, namely Nick King looking after planning, which he now does on his own since the retirement of Jonathan Hutchinson. He combines this with frequent work trips to London and still manages to produce a list of planning matters every month which need our attention, and has usually formulated a draft response, and attends planning meetings at Lyndhurst and planning enquiries.

Also in the engine room is Nigel Seth Smith who deals with the newsletters, often when flying between here and Canada.

Then Mark Lanigan, who has breathed fresh life into our website and who is featured as our Committee Member of the month in the last edition of the Autumn 2013 newsletter.

Then Tim Kermode, who we are very pleased to have found following his work with the Environment Agency, whose previous life was to look after the Lymington River and the coastline. Needless to say he advises on those matters.

Last but by no means least is Don Mackenzie who I have left to last because he would best be described as our Minister without portfolio although he covers a multitude of activities including the social programme and press releases and the distribution of the newsletter. I think the Committee would probably agree if I describe him as our ideas man largely because of his other close involvement with Town matters which enables us to keep our metaphorical ear to the ground.

Ivor Johnson is giving up the secretaryship this year, and Don MacKenzie wanted to give up the social committee responsibility last year but has manfully continued to be responsible for it.

There are therefore two functions at least which need to be filled by the Committee and to do this we need new blood. That of course does not mean people younger than us as the committee members still have a lot of vitality in them. It means people coming forward with fresh ideas and prepared to help with tasks which they are happy with.

If you are interested in becoming more involved then do contact one of the committee members afterwards and come along to one or more committee meetings on a no obligation basis. If you are happy to be involved then you can be co-opted formally onto the Committee.

Before I close I invite you to show your appreciation in the usual way to the members of the Committee

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