DIVISIVE plans to build a new nursery on land in Whitchurch have been refused by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.

The Development Control Committee heard passionate arguments for and against the proposal for Whitchurch Montessori Nursery to relocate from Testbourne Community School to land at the Knowlings Field.

The application received more than 150 comments, with 129 objecting and 31 in support.

Councillor Tracy Woodruff, representing Whitchurch Town Council, spoke against the application.

She said a dedicated meeting was held in September to allow residents to have their say on the plans, and said “the hall was packed” with representatives from Whitchurch Residents Action Group and the applicant attending.

Cllr Woodruff described the Knowlings Field as a “very well used and popular recreational green space”, adding: “Noise to the local residents was a big concern and a noise impact statement should have been carried out.”

She also raised concerns about traffic congestion, describing it as “unsafe for residents or any person trying to access the building”.

A representative from Whitchurch Residents Action Group also put forward various objections, saying: “This development would pollute and damage a landlocked green field outside Whitchurch settlement boundary.”

She said the plans would be “disastrous” for other local nurseries and put them out of businesses, adding: “The loss of this land would not be outweighed by community benefit as the report claims, since there are none. It will only serve a select few of our children.”

Whitchurch ward councillor Chloe Ashfield challenged the evidence provided by Hampshire County Council’s Children’s Services regarding nursery provision in Whitchurch, saying numerous nurseries in the area are not at capacity and are open to “children of all needs”.

As a mother-of-three herself, she said she had a “great deal of empathy for the parents who are anxious about the coming months”, but added: “Balancing the future of the Knowlings Field I am not sure the good quality provision is at all scarce enough to warrant this significant and controversial development.”

However, Councillor Sharon Egan, from Whitchurch Town Council, spoke in support of the application, attending the meeting as an individual and describing the plans as delivering a “need for high quality nursery provision… for children who are failed and unable to go elsewhere”.

Lizzie Banks, who runs Muddy Puddles forest schools in the area, also spoke in support of the proposals as a parent at the Montessori, telling councillors she was there to represent the 70 parents who couldn’t be there because they were putting their children to bed.

She said: “It offers us flexible and affordable hours which no other nursery in the area offers.”

However, her real passion was regarding the outdoor provision, explaining: “It offers forest school for every single child every single day. It’s ingrained into the nursery’s ethos and due to this the children have a strong relationship with nature and the environment. They have emotional connections with the environment which makes them the guardians for the future.”

She added: “It’s a very small amount of land she wants to put the building on… From a professional point of view but also a parent I support this. The use of this space is amazing for our children and community.”

Julia Lymbery, director of the Montessori, said it opened four years ago and has grown five-fold, starting with just nine children, and now has 42 on a waiting list.

She added: “The approval of this application will allow us to offer five days childcare which will help parents desperately in need and also the flexibility parents are not getting.”

The nursery is currently open three days a week.

Julia said there were no other appropriate alternative sites, but said she had looked at other locations, including the social club, but said: “Our parents didn’t want their children to be educated somewhere that has a drinking licence, it’s a pub in the evenings.”

Following questions and a debate, councillors voted to refuse the application, despite the officers’ recommendation for approval.