Members of Gillingham Town Council’s planning committee have voted unanimously to oppose plans to install up to 43 park homes on a field next to Colesbrook in the north of the town.
Their move at a meeting on Monday evening came after strong opposition to the development for the over 55s was also expressed by a number of local residents, including actress Pippa Haywood.
Both councillors and residents said the plan would harm the nearby conservation areas at Colesbrook and Milton-on-Stour, contribute to ‘urban sprawl’ between the town and Milton, affect safety on an existing path used by schoolchildren attending a local primary school, and was contrary to a whole raft of planning policies, both at local and national level.
The idea that the site would provide ‘affordable’ homes on a ‘sustainable’ site was also criticised.
Resident Andrew Briggs said the developers Serenity Parks were trying to ‘cram in’ as many static park homes as possible into the site in a way that would not be ‘in any way sympathetic’ to the character and nature of the surrounding area.
Mr Briggs said the field in question was part of a designated gap between Colesbrook and Milton, whose purpose was to retain the ‘distinct character of Milton as a separate village’. He added: ‘The development of this important gap will therefore cause substantial harm to the setting of the Milton conservation area … it may be the first step in Milton becoming engulfed by urban sprawl.’
David Trump, a British Water-certified engineer, told councillors at the meeting at the Town Hall on Monday that the developers had underestimated the true surface area by 2.3 times and that as a result the attenuation pond to collect run-off water was ‘grossly undersized’. He said: ‘What does that mean? It means that it will flood.’
Pippa Haywood, who has appeared in a string of well-known televisions series including Green Wing, Scott & Bailey and Bodyguard, spoke of the ‘adverse affect’ the access road into the proposed development would have on the existing cycle and footpath that runs from the north of Gillingham to Milton-on-Stour primary school. ‘This path was built specifically to ensure the safety of those who use it, there are no roads crossing it. The new access road would cut right across the path.’
She also quoted comments from the former chair of the governors at the primary school, Melvin Stroud, who was closely involved in the decision to build the path. ‘He says “The new access road would make it very unsafe and virtually impossible for children to make this journey alone. This defeats the whole object of the footpath and is a danger to schoolchildren.”’
But Pippa Haywood said the path was not just used by schoolchildren but also by walkers, people in wheelchairs, people on mobility scooters, Scouts, churchgoers, cyclists and runners. ‘It forms a safe route for those in Milton and Gillingham to enjoy sustainable ways of accessing either community and take exercise in a pleasant rural environment that a density populated static home park would ruin.’
Councillor Rupert Evill agreed that the proposed plan ‘encroaches on that buffer zone between Gillingham and Milton’.
Former mayor Councillor Barry Von Clemens quoted from a wide range of national and local policy documents – including Gillingham’s Neighbourhood Plan – which he said the proposed development would breach on land that was currently classified as countryside and was outside the settlement area.
‘It’s an important green gap between the boundary of Gillingham and the boundary of Milton. Milton is a lovely part of Gillingham but it has its own identity as a village and it’s vital that we keep that that space there,’ he told fellow councillors.
Councillor Roger Weeks said in his view the proposal clearly constituted overdevelopment was ‘out of character’ with the area, and would also increase light pollution. Councillor Weeks said: ‘I get more and more disheartened as a councillor at the continued drive of developers to change the character of our town, with very little benefit to Gillingham. I have seen nothing that tells me there is any benefit other than to the landowner and the developer.’
Councillors voted unanimously to recommend refusal of the proposed park home site. The application will now go to Dorset Council to make its decision as the planning authority.