Plans to build nine houses in the heart of Whitchurch have raised controversy amongst residents of the town.

The houses are proposed on a patch of land at The Lawn, adjacent to Church Street and the River Test. The Lawn is the former home of Lord Denning, one of the most notable judges of the 20th century and one of Whitchurch’s most famous sons.

The plans have proved controversial to residents of the town, who have raised concerns over traffic, the impact on the conservation area and impacts on the environment.

The Advertiser has broken down the ongoing situation here:

Lord Denning with a birthday card on his 99th birthday

Lord Denning with a birthday card on his 99th birthday

What is The Lawn, and who is Lord Denning?

The Lawn is a Grade II listed house in Whitchurch, built in the 1800s. It sits in extensive grounds in the heart of the town.

It was bought by Lord Denning, who began carrying out a series of works on the property in 1963. This included the demolition of buildings on the estate, and the conversion of stables into a home.

Lord Denning himself was born as Alfred Denning in Whitchurch in 1899, subsequently being called to the bar in 1923. He became a Judge in 1944, and was appointed to the High Court, and subsequently sat in the Court of Appeals and as a House of Lords Law Lord, the predecessor to the judges who sit on the Supreme Court today.

He made a number of contributions to British law, including reforms of divorce law, and was the author of a report into a political espionage scandal known as the Profumo affair.

He died at the age of 100 in 1999.

A plan of one of the houses. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

A plan of one of the houses. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

What are the plans?

Under the plans, an existing gate onto Church Street will be widened, providing access to nine houses to be built on land located between the road and the River Test.

Plans have been considered for the area of the estate for some time, with Lord Denning having had plans drawn up in 1983 for housing to be built on the site. These were never acted on, however, with the latest plans submitted on November 23, following a pre-application submission.

The houses will all be between one and a half to two stories high, and will mostly be built of Hampshire red stone brick and slate roofing, with aluminium panelling.

They will be a mix of two and three bedroom properties, with one additional four bedroom house. Trees will be planted to help screen the site from the surrounding area.

Proposed views of the housing from Church Street. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

Proposed views of the housing from Church Street. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

What have residents said?

Claire Ryan said that the houses, which would be built within the Whitchurch Conservation Area, were “totally unsuitable” for the site, and that the current proposals included a “too dense plan of houses, which are inappropriately designed for the local area”.

“I couldn't object more strongly to this,” she added.

Concerns over the conservation area were also raised in the pre-application submission, with Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council noting that the area is categorised as an “important open space” and that it is likely development on the site “will cause harm” to nearby listed buildings, and the wider conservation area.

Residents were also concerned about the nearby road, with Alexander Wilkins saying the plans would add “considerable further strain” on Church Street, while another was concerned access to the site would be “dangerous” due to the bend in the road.

Kate Aldridge said that there would be “great harm” to wildlife in the area, while public body Natural England said the plans as submitted, “could have potential significant effects” on the River Test and Solent. In particular, they said that more information was required to ensure the site would be nitrate neutral, and would protect the habitat of the River Test from poor water quality caused by surface drainage containing pollutants, and recreational activities of residents impacting the riverbanks and biodiversity

The requirement for nitrate neutrality is based on a 2018 court ruling, which led Natural England to advise planners that those in the Solent catchment area, like Whitchurch, should not add excess nitrates into the environment to prevent eutrophication. This is where nitrogen allows algae to grow rapidly and starve marine life of oxygen and light.

The housing plan. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

The housing plan. Credit: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

What have the developers said?

The developers say that the plans will “enhance the currently underutilised existing site, through providing attractive and well designed architecture that responds to and complements the local context.

“The design of the scheme has been carefully developed to make a positive contribution to the architectural character of the local area, and to provide spacious light-filled homes for the occupants, while being respectful to the surrounding context.

“Through the application and supporting reports and documentation we have clearly demonstrated that there will be no harm to either the heritage assets, their setting, to the character of the conservation area, to the landscape or visual amenity, to the transport or ecology of the site and its surroundings.

“The living accommodation is spacious and carefully laid out, high quality, with all aspects of amenity and family lifestyle accounted for.”

In response to concerns over the conservation area, the architects said that the site “is not a policy designated important open space and should not be considered” as such. They added that the open space viewable by the general public is “a view of the boundary wall with trees behind”, with any other visual impacts “not considered to be major”.

Regarding transport, the developer’s transport assessment calculated that the extra traffic would amount to two per cent increase, while the visibility from the junction met the limits set by Hampshire County Council. As such, it states there will be no “material impact” on transport.

An ecological assessment by the developer, regarding the impact on the River Test, dismissed such concerns as “not significant.” Environmental management plans are to be put in place to provide guidance on how to best protect the river and habitats within the area, with habitat enhancement outside the development area.

What happens now?

The plans are currently open to public consultation, with residents able to have their say by going to Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s planning site and searching 20/03262/FUL. The public consultation closes on February 16.

Whitchurch Town Council will consider the plans at its development committee on February 15, where councillors will decide if they wish to object to any aspect of the plans.

Following consultation, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s planning officers will decide on the application.