St James' Hospital Site: 200 homes plan will 'destroy' wooded area an inquiry is told

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Councillors have warned that proposals to redevelop a Milton hospital site into housing would 'destroy' one of the few remaining wooded areas in Portsmouth on the opening day of a public inquiry into the controversial scheme.

The week-long hearing is being held at the Guildhall as part of the appeal launched by developer PJ Livesey for delays in a decision over the planning application for the St James’ Hospital site being made by the city council.

Concerns raised on Tuesday (June 27) centred on the loss of Matron’s Garden which has been earmarked to be cleared to make way for three of the more than 200 homes planned for the site. Described by the Milton Neighbourhood Forum as ‘a unique enclosure not replicated elsewhere in Portsmouth,’ the open space, councillors said, had been open informally for public use for decades until access was blocked before the pandemic. The issue is now one of the main focuses of the inquiry with the only reason for refusal being used to defend the council’s position against the scheme being concerns over the felling of dozens of trees and the potential loss of open space.

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ALSO READ: Councillors vote to reject controversial £55m redevelopment of St James’ Hospital - but government will have final say

How the proposed site will look if the plans are approvedHow the proposed site will look if the plans are approved
How the proposed site will look if the plans are approved

The council is being represented by solicitor Robert Walton who, speaking at the start of the inquiry, said these issues warranted the planning inspector, Richard McCoy refusing planning permission.

‘The scheme will bring a significant number of benefits, including but not limited to housing and heritage as well as delivering public access through the site,’ he said. ‘It is the council’s position, nonetheless, that the loss of trees and the loss of the Matron’s Garden is sufficient enough to justify refusing the application.’

Milton ward councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the land was being used to subsidise the conversion of the hospital buildings and that the decision of NHS Property Services to sell the land for a higher price than the council’s offer had contributed to this.

His concerns were echoed by his fellow ward councillor Steve Pitt, the leader of the council.

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He said: ‘The nub of the problem here is that PJ Livesey has an obvious need to propose a scheme that is economically viable and we know that viability is leading to overdevelopment of the site in terms of new build properties to offset the financial pressures of converting the hospital buildings.’

He placed the blame ‘squarely on NHS Property Services’ which owns the site and agreed its sale to PJ Livesey for more than £5m, rejecting a £1 plus profit share bid from the council.

The planning application, which holds the record for having received more objections than any other submitted to the city council, was submitted in 2020 but faced a series of delays in a decision being reached. An appeal was lodged last summer before the council’s planning committee agreed it would have refused planning permission if not for the ongoing consideration by the planning inspectorate.

The application has been supported by the NHS which said maintenance of the site was costing it more than £1.5m a year. The inquiry will continue for the remainder of the week before a final virtual session takes place on Tuesday next week to end the hearing. Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt is scheduled to speak on Friday.