Ten years ago Berkeley Homes submitted a planning application to turn Royal Clarence Yard in Gosport into a vibrant hub of bars, restaurants and retail outlets. But the waterfront area remains empty and residents and councillors are angry at the lack of businesses.
With a history dating back to the 18th century, Royal Clarence Yard is known for its time providing the Royal Navy with food and other supplies.
It is one of two remaining royal yards in the country and has Queen Victoria among its famous visitors.
But in the past 10 years, the Gosport site has been undergoing development intending to make it a vibrant hub of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities.
Berkeley Homes purchased the land from Gosport Borough Council in 2001, but residents say the yard is still not living up to its potential.
The site is made up of houses and a handful of independent businesses, ranging from a hairdressers to a cafe. But the majority of the waterfront units remain empty.
People living at Royal Clarence Yard are now calling for Berkeley Homes to get started with its original vision for the site.
They say the developer has delivered the housing side of the planning application, but not the commercial side.
Resident Philippa Dickinson says Berkeley Homes is not giving Royal Clarence Yard the chance to fulfil its potential.
‘As residents, what we are trying to do is show there is a huge amount of potential here,’ she says.
‘People who visit come down here once, see the empty waterfront units and then don’t come back.
‘There is so much opportunity and if something interesting was built here, then people would come to visit.
‘A lot of people who come to Gosport don’t know we are here and even people living in the town have not been to the site.
‘We have got something here that is hard to replicate and it is hard to find somewhere that has got the astonishing opportunity that we have.
‘Berkeley Homes had in its plan a site that would bring in so much potential and high-quality businesses to Gosport.’
In the original planning application, Berkeley Homes wanted 380 houses with 17,060sqm of commercial floor space. This included a cinema, restaurants, bars and retail outlets.
But the firm then put in a new application, increasing the houses to 698 and reducing the commercial space to 10,203sqm.
This was then revised again to around 500 homes. The new application was refused by Gosport Borough Council’s planning board but, after appeal, the then secretary of state Alan Novtizky agreed to the application.
Mrs Dickinson adds: ‘That was a real turning point for the development of Royal Clarence Yard.
‘The government had sided with Berkeley Homes and Gosport Borough Council couldn’t do anything about the application.’
Since getting the approval, Berkeley Homes has built hundreds of homes on the site.
But both the council and residents think the lack of commercial prospects is hindering Royal Clarence Yard.
Chairman of the economic development board Councillor Stephen Philpoot says the site is a hidden gem.
‘We, as a council, have been grappling for the past decade with the enormous challenges set for us by the decision of the government inspector to side with the developer against the council,’ he says.
‘It has been an uphill task to persuade commercial businesses to set up in an area with, arguably, barely sufficient car parking space for residents let alone any potential customers.
‘But after years of struggle we are beginning to see some grounds for optimism.
‘The agreed parking plan has, at least, provided some clarity as to where visitors to Royal Clarence Yard can park.
‘The upturn in the economy along with a surge of interest in Portsmouth Harbour from marine-based industries following the arrival of Ben Ainslie Racing in Portsmouth has seen businesses keen to set up a base to utilise the deep water access at Royal Clarence Yard.
‘Some residents have also come forward with an exciting plan to provide a waterbus link to other destinations within the harbour.
‘All they need is an operator willing to visualise the commercial benefit.
‘Of course, the one big thing going for Royal Clarence Yard is the location itself.
‘The beautiful historic buildings and the superb views make this waterside spot a magnificent hidden gem.’
David Whitehead, who also lives at the site, says the need for jobs is vital for the site.
‘The council is frustrated along with us because Berkeley Homes is not doing the commercial side of the plan and giving Gosport the jobs it needs.
‘We don’t need more homes here, we need more jobs.
‘Part of the issue is that we put more homes at Royal Clarence Yard but not the jobs and we get traffic problems because people have to commute.’
Ward councillor Wayne Ronayne says he can understand the residents’ annoyance over the situation.
‘I understand their frustration, I can clearly remember the marketing strategy undertaken by Berkeley Homes when the development was in its infancy,’ he says.
‘The sales message suggested to prospective purchasers that they were not simply buying a home but were making a lifestyle choice, with leisure and retail facilities promised.
‘Sadly none of the developer’s aspirations have materialised or show any likelihood that they ever will.
‘The turning point was possibly when the council’s decision to refuse to permit additional housing above what had been originally agreed by the developer was overturned by the then government inspector.
‘It appears that from that point, all hope of realising the commercial viability of the site diminished alongside the reduced availability of car parking, not only for the residents but also for prospective businesses and their potential customers.’
He adds: ‘I have great sympathy with the residents who, rather than buying into a lifestyle, are not even served by a bus service and can’t even buy a newspaper.
‘Berkeley Homes appear not to be focused towards realising the commercial opportunities for the site, but seem content to squeeze even more residential properties into an area that does not have sufficient facilities to support them.
‘Regrettably the council is not the site owner and cannot dictate the direction the development should take.’
Both councillors and residents agree the site is a key one within the town.
Ms Dickinson adds: ‘The history here is just amazing and for a long time the yard was associated with Queen Victoria.
‘When it closed as the victualling yard and was given back to the council, it became a big part of the waterfront development.
‘It is one of the key elements when it comes to the future of the waterfront.’
But when it comes to the future of Royal Clarence Yard, residents are unsure what to expect.
Mr Whitehead says: ‘We don’t know what the next plans are.
‘All we want is to see Royal Clarence Yard put on the map and we are happy to help to see that happen.’