Mon, 20 Apr 2020
A GROUP of East Woodhay villagers opposing the Sungrove Farm development in East End are celebrating after the parish council reversed its support of the scheme.
In December last year, East Woodhay Parish Council marginally voted in favour of the scheme, which seeks to build a multi-use development with a café and bakery selling local produce, as well as an education space.
Following objections raised by the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), however, a second vote was held on Monday, March 30 – and this time the scheme was opposed by an overwhelming majority.
The application will still go before Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s planning authorities – but Friends of East End (FOEE) are delighted at the parish council’s change of mind.
Peter Brunsden, representing the body, said: “We are very pleased.
“The parish council was in a difficult position in December – they had to respond extremely quickly, almost within a week.
“We feel the AONB report is a game-changer and it takes somebody like the AONB – who look at the macro picture – to say this is like the emperor’s new clothes.
“People are almost a bit scared to go against it because the applicants are very wealthy and powerful, but you have to look at the scheme and think it’s just ridiculous in the scale of this little hamlet.”
The project – put forward by Emily von Opel, who lives with her husband Georg von Opel in the Malverleys opposite Sungrove Farm – has run into constant opposition since it was first proposed last year.
While Mrs von Opel has argued that the scheme is socially rather than commercially driven and will act as a meeting place within the hamlet, many residents feel that the scale of the operation remains far too big.
In the March 30 council meeting, two councillors – Mark Rand and Paul Hurst – suggested they could support the scheme if it was downsized, and Mr Brunsden was inclined to agree.
He said: “The scale of it is still the main problem.
“We’ve got no objection to that site being developed, but in a much more organic way.
“The current application is just way too big and has too many bells and whistles to be considered credible in my view, and that’s the view held by the overwhelming majority of people who live within half a mile of the site.
“Even if it was smaller, I still think it would meet resistance as it’s still a commercial enterprise and that would change the nature and character of the hamlet completely.”
In response to the council’s U-turn, Lorna Byrne of Planning Potential – the company behind the scheme – said it would revisit its plans before the proposal went before Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, but was keen not to add to the borough council’s workload during the coronavirus lockdown.
She said: “We have revisited the plans for Sungrove Farm and have been looking into noise and lighting options and impacts in particular.
“The von Opels appreciate the extraordinarily difficult times people are experiencing and they are mindful that councils are currently focused on serving their local communities, protecting vulnerable individuals and supporting the NHS.
“We don’t want to submit new information and add to the council’s workload at this difficult time.
“There will inevitably be some delays to the planning process, but we intend to submit additional information for the parish and borough councils to consider in due course.”