Southleigh Park – Bargate Homes ‘Application for tree works’

In previous years, Havant Civic Society confined its interest to matters pertaining to the immediate town centre. As might be evident from some of our recent posts, we now place equal weight to matters affecting the surrounding area and this post represents one such example. It also shows, for a welcome change, a good example of the Development Management Committee ‘thinking on its feet’ when chaired well, something which doesn’t often happen in our experience!

Bargate Homes are not the residents’ favourite developer at the moment so we attended last night’s Development Management Committee meeting with more than a little interest. The fact that the HCS website editor has a keen interest in both trees and bats added further incentive. The main subject of last night’s two and a quarter hour meeting was Bargate Homes application to fell a large number of mature trees, many protected by tree preservation orders, in the grounds of Southleigh Park to clear the way for another seventy houses. This is not an easy case to sort out given the previous permissions granted, and it made for compelling viewing* listening.

Let’s start with a little history of this site which has, at least for the last half century, been hidden away behind secure fencing. Motorists coming into Havant along Emsworth Common Road will be familiar with the sight of the boarded up Southleigh Lodge facing them as they contemplate the dog-leg turn into Bartons Road, but they will probably be unaware of the rest of the estate hidden within the trees.

Southleigh Park features the remains of an early 19th-century gentleman’s estate, the house still standing overlooking the former park. For more detail regarding its history, take this link to the ‘Parks and Gardens’ website**.

In 1968, Southleigh Park was bought and redeveloped as the headquarters site for the Plessey electronics company and after the demise of Plessey, more recently the headquarters of Snell and Wilcox. Plessey built the large glass and concrete office complex behind the house and that block is all that can be seen from the outside, looking through the entrance gateway on Eastleigh Road. We would be delighted if the office block came down to make way for sympathetic and appropriate development to take place on this site, providing that it is within the context of the historic park landscape.

When Snell and Wilcox was bought out by a US company, control of the estate passed to the trustees of their pension fund. In August 2017, the pension fund trustees then engaged Terence O’Rorke Ltd as their agent to submit a planning application for the complete development of the site. (As the residents of Lower Road, Bedhampton will be aware, ToR have a close working relationship with Bargate homes.)

The Southleigh Park site had already been allocated for housing in the Draft Local Plan with, we believe, an original allocation of up to 35 units. The August 2017 planning application for the site presented an outline for 20 units within the historic buildings and a further 70 to be built on the former office block and around the parkland.

In January 2019, this planning application came up before the Development Management Committee. That meeting, on January 24th, was not their finest moment as we had cause to report at the time regarding another matter. When the agenda turned to the Southleigh Park application, despite the fact that the Draft Local Plan had not yet been – and to this day has still not been – adopted, planning permission was granted. The 18 page decision letter can be seen here. Of the many conditions applied to the permission, number 27 is particularly pertinent to last night’s deliberations.

It is worth taking the time now to understand what is meant by a ‘Reserved Matters’ application; this one page explanation will help. Also, take note of the key clause, ‘unless otherwise agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority’. On the face of it, Condition 27 states that no trees can be felled, until such a reserved matters application has been approved.

Now for a few well known facts. Planning policies have loopholes, Local Authorities have weaknesses, and Developers employ expensive lawyers to back up their threats to appeal.

The planning application being reviewed at last night’s meeting was not the planning application for the development – that was passed in January 2019. The new application under review was submitted in August 2020 as an ‘application for tree works’. Had this latest application for tree works been passed last night, then the key clause of Condition 27 on the permission granted to the earlier outline planning application would have been satisfied. (Just think about it for a while…)

The application for tree works itself might look pretty innocuous to the uninitiated, but fortunately, Havant Borough Council’s Arboricultural Manager, Jamie Gargett, was on the case.

Click the link below to hear Jamie’s introduction to the proceedings which set a clear tone for the evening.

The first deputation made to the meeting was by Nik Knight, Hampshire’s Bat Recorder and a leading authority on the subject. (Some HCS members may remember an evening walk down the Billy Track from the Gazebo Garden with Nik last year.)

Nik’s deputation can be heard next and sets the first important environmental context for the debate. Do listen!

The next deputation on the agenda papers was given by Malinda Griffin of Havant Borough Tree Wardens.

A further deputation was made by Thomas Griffin, rounding out the defence case for the trees with a few more pointers to the National Planning Policy Framework and Historic England. Cllrs Lloyd, Patrick and Pike then made further deputations against the application. Councillor Patrick’s deputation is included here given that it expanded on the written deputation originally submitted and makes some powerful points.

As Cllr Patrick says, “This is probably one of the most prestigious sites that the borough has and would have made a wonderful country hotel and conference centre while at the same time providing hundreds of jobs for our local economy”.

The case for such a venue is strong. In the evolving post-Covid, post Brexit world, working and commuting habits will have changed permanently for many residents and businesses. Many decisions made prior to March 2020 will have become invalidated and there should be no valid objection to calling them back in for review.

Let’s face it, the entire Local Plan probably needs a complete rethink.

Bargate Home’s Head of Planning, Paul Thomas, then gave the sole deputation in support of his own application.

All other deputations can be heard by taking the link to the full meeting at the end of this post.

To get a feel for the rather emotionally charged nature of the debate, well handled with due clarity and balance by Cllr Satchwell, it’s well worth listening to the last 25 minutes of the proceedings. It’s not often that you hear participants referred to by their first names in these meetings, but ‘Clare’, ‘Jamie’ and ‘Steve’ all gave highly creditable performances.

(If you’re short of time, just skip to the 21’40” mark for the motion and the voting.)

In summary, this was public scrutiny working for once, a decent debate based on strong arguments, well chaired and consequently taking real notice of the public deputations. The right decision was made, despite Julia Mansi’s sometimes irritating contributions.

To view the entire meeting on the HBC website, please take this link and press ‘Join the event’. Pour yourself a drink first and find a comfortable seat, it’s an enjoyable, feature length episode.


* In all two and a quarter hours of this meeting broadcast, not a single face was to be seen. Havant Borough Council’s broadcasting of meetings invariably has most participants hiding behind PowerPoint slides which makes for extremely dull viewing. By contrast, watch these proceedings from earlier in the week from their EHDC twin. Plenty to see there! (Surely HBC’s Councillors and Officers have nothing to hide?!)

** With a nod to HIGNFY, we note that Southleigh Park also figures in ‘this week’s guest website’, Redwood World.

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