An application to build a new nursery on a wooded area in Whitchurch has split the local community.

Whitchurch Montessori Nursery and Forest School has applied to relocate from All Hallows Church to former railway land located between Park View and Wells Lane. Under the plans, the school would lease the site from Hampshire County Council, and place a prefabricated building on the site, as well as building a carpark and drop off area.

The plans have caused a strong reaction, with many comments on both sides of the argument debating the school’s necessity, site suitability and environmental impact.

One proponent of the plans, Gemma Scott-Smith, said that the nursery was “very much needed” in Whitchurch to provide places for children in the town. This view was shared by Mark Sessions, who said that “town desperately needs more school and nursery places.”

While the plans say the new building is “not an expansion” of the nursery, which currently accommodates 29 pupils, they also note that the new site will increase its opening hours from three to five days a week, as well as being able to accommodate up to 40 children.

However, opponents of the plans said that a previous application for the nursery for land at The Knowlings was rejected after Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) found that “it had not been sufficiently demonstrated” that would meet an identified local need.

This was noted by Rising Fives Nursery, which is located near to the proposed site, who said that they were “shocked and surprised” by the application. They said that they currently had additional capacity, and that the “situation hasn’t changed” since then.

However, Whitchurch Montessori said that the previous ruling had made reference to two proposed nurseries which have not since opened, so that the need was there.

Parent Sophie Stone told the Advertiser: “We need to face facts that the town has already grown and we need to start expanding the facilities to accommodate that growth.”

Rising Fives also said that the plans would “exclude” the nursery from the woodland area, which they said they had used for the past 46 years with their pupils.

Resident Luke Collis agreed, saying: “Rising Fives uses this site to teach the children about wildlife and at the same time it's still available and open to the public. Why should the Montessori get full access to this area when another nursery already uses it!”

Whitchurch Montessori have told the Advertiser that access to the embankment and footpath “will be maintained” under the plans.

Lucie Maitland said that the woodland where the nursery would be built was “currently in very poor condition and in desperate need of management,” and that it would support the management of the site.

However, tree warden Virginia Lee noted that the proposals would “conflict with many of the policies in the Whitchurch Neighbourhood Plan,” a planning document adopted in 2017 to inform planning in the town.

The site forms part of one of two green corridors in Whitchurch identified in the plan, which says that “it is essential to retain the un-spoilt character of these two corridors."

Following a meeting of Whitchurch Town Council’s Development Committee last week, where the council lent its support to the application, the plans will subsequently be considered by BDBC in due course.

In a statement, Whitchurch Montessori and Forest School told the Advertiser: “Following the termination of the lease on the community rooms at Testbourne School, we have been searching for a new permanent home. The nursery has been fortunate to find a temporary home in the church rooms.

“The location is ideal, with good pedestrian access from the town centre and new housing developments. It is round the corner from our current location and provides an area for parents to park whilst collecting children. The site provides a location for a forest school to maintain and enhance the existing woodland setting, and we will be remediating previously developed land to enhance the existing green corridor identified in the neighbourhood plan.”