Councillors in Gillingham voted on Monday night to support plans for a 59-flat ‘extra care’ complex to replace St Martins House on Queen Street.
Despite misgivings from some councillors that the plans resembled a ‘warehouse’ and were more appropriate for a Manchester or Birmingham ‘canal side’ development, a majority on the planning committee voted to back the scheme by Magna Housing after agreeing it was better than an earlier plan.
Supporting the plans Councillor Mike Gould said: ‘This is a big improvement on the previous application.’ He welcomed the fact there will be a wild flower meadow down by the river, that some rooms will have balconies and that the whole design had been drawn up ‘more sympathetically’ as far as the area is concerned, with better landscaping.
He added: ‘We have to move on with this building, it is an eyesore at the moment. I believe this is a reasonable development – I do not think it’s the best, but it is reasonable.’
Councillor Paul Harris said he acknowledged some of the concerns about the design but said: ‘I think this sits reasonably well on that particular site.’ Addressing representatives from the scheme he said: ‘You’ve probably done the best that can be done on that particular site.’
Though he also felt it was a better design than the previous one, Councillor Alan Frith said he had concerns that the three-storey high structure would ‘totally dominate what you see as you come down the road into Gillingham’.
The town’s mayor and planning committee member Councillor Barry Von Clemens, meanwhile, said that while it was better than the ‘ghastly’ previous design, this plan was still not right for that site in in Gillingham. ‘It is a lovely development. But it’s lovely development in Manchester or on the canals in Birmingham. In my view it does not sit right here, in the middle of Queen Street.’
Councillor Von Clemens, who abstained from voting as he had been involved in the campaign to try and save St Martins, said he was concerned about the increased traffic the developed would cause, the poor quality of the pavements and the fact that some of the rooms could overlook neighbouring homes.
And he likened this development to that which had replaced the town’s former mill some years ago. ‘When Barnaby Mill was it developed I believe the town turned around and said, oh no never again will we let something like that be built on a site such as the mill. Yet “bang” there we go. That’s all I have to say.’
Earlier, architect Daniel Knight from Kenn Scaddan Associates, who have drawn up the new design, said that this was a ‘high quality’ building with better landscaping, with the buildings pulled back further from the roads in a bid to make them less ‘dominant’ on the street scene. They had addressed a lot of the criticism levelled at the previous design, he told councillors, and the existing cherry tree would be retained as a ‘feature’.
Magna Housing’s head of development Paul Read said that the new design was a ‘fresh view’. He said the association was investing £12 million in a site valued at £11 million and that they were investing ‘quite heavily’ in matters such as insulation and heating to ‘achieve higher standards than you would normally get’.
Last year there was a campaign to stop the existing red brick St Martins House, built by entrepreneur Thomas Hudson in the 19th century as a show home, from being demolished.
But Dorset Council, the owners of the site, insisted that there was a strong need for ‘extra care’ homes in the area and that the building had to be pulled down.
Paul Read told councillors at the meeting that Dorset Council had confirmed to them that extra care remains one of the council’s ‘high priorities’. Mr Read said: ‘Extra Care is for active elderly people which is why the location of the site is so important.’
Some parts of the old building are due to be incorporated into the external or internal design of the new structure, he confirmed.
The application will now go to the northern area planning committee of Dorset Council for its decision.