Lifeline thrown in the fight to save green Portsmouth site

Protesters in the grounds of St James' Hospital last month
Protesters in the grounds of St James' Hospital last month
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage hosted an Enterprise event at St Vincents College      
Picture Ian Hargreaves (171567-1)

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CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed a council proposal to buy the St James’ Hospital site.

Residents in Milton believe the bid could save one of Portsmouth’s last ‘green lungs’ and stop the traffic gridlock that is predicted if the site becomes a 480-home estate.

Officers at Portsmouth City Council are assessing the sprawling site to see if it could accommodate public sector such as education, health and social care.

Potential uses could include a residential care home, planned for Drayton; housing for vulnerable adults; or the relocation of sites used by Harbour School elsewhere in the city.

Officers are looking at the proposal’s feasibility with a view to working up a business case to buy the land from the NHS.

Janice Burkinshaw, chairwoman of Milton Neighbourhood Forum, said: ‘Housing is completely inappropriate in our view.

‘It will bring the whole area out of balance. This seems like a good solution.’

David Jordan, a member of Keep Milton Green, said: ‘I think it will be welcomed in Milton.

‘I feel very encouraged by this and the people I have spoken to do as well.’

The proposal is poised to be the subject of fierce debate at today’s council budget meeting.

Last year the Liberal Democrat opposition suggested that the council should buy part of the site, but this was discounted at the time as Conservative leaders said the figures did not add up.

But council leader Councillor Donna Jones told The News that she and officers have been working on a potential bid for several weeks.

She said: ‘As leader of the council I want to explore all options possible for land at St James’ Hospital.

‘The availability of this land could present an opportunity for us to improve some of the facilities we need to provide in the city while ensuring any development is sympathetic to the area.’

The cost of buying the land from the NHS is expected to be between £6m and £8m – most of which would have to be borrowed.

Cllr Jones added: ‘If we can build a financially viable plan it would be great to take control of this vital site in Milton.’

Cllr Jones said her team were looking at a ‘comprehensive plan’ for the whole site.

Meanwhile, Lib Dem councillors say they will be bringing forward their own fully-costed plan at today’s meeting that will protect part of the green space and ensure that the Harbour School remains in Milton.

Lib Dem leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It is plan which ensures that the Harbour School is able to remain in Milton and that some green space is retained.’

He added: ‘I hope that councillors from all parties can get behind local residents in the fight to keep Milton green.’