Plans to turn disused watercress beds into vacation sites have met with a flood of opposition.
The Grange Estate has applied to redevelop redundant beds, create wetland habitat and build ten holiday lodges at Fobdown Watercress Beds, Abbotstone Road, near Old Alresford.
The project also includes the demolition of disused buildings, the creation of new tracks, the drainage of reed beds and landscaping.
It has raised 48 objections since the proposal was launched in the fall of 2019 and a decision had to be taken by the town council’s town planning commission. But it has been postponed to allow for recent public comments since the publication of the committee documents.
The site was operated as a watercress stand by Vitacress until 2016, when it was acquired by the Grange Estate. The farm used water from Candover Creek, a tributary of the Itchen.
City council planning officers supported the project with benefits including removing a Leylandii conifer hedge and panting native hardwoods.
Itchen Stoke and the Ovington Parish Council back the plan, calling it a “visionary project” because it would involve the removal of large concrete structures used for growing watercress and create a large wetland with “enormous ecological benefit”.
The Alresford Society disagreed, saying it would create “unacceptable visual and sound intrusion and change the character of the area”.
Objections include increased traffic on Abbotstone Road, the impact on wildlife from the development, noise and light pollution and fears that the lodges will be converted into homes in the future.
A report for the Grange Estate written by consultants RM Wetlands and Environment said: “The cessation of commercial cultivation of watercress has been recognized by local stakeholders, including the Upper Itchen Group, the Agency for environment and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, as an opportunity to improve the ecology of the site and improve the overall ecological functioning of the Candover Valley and the SAC at large.
“The assessment of the various elements indicates that it would be possible to create and restore wetlands within the site at the site occupied by the old watercress beds. There is sufficient water available to maintain attractive wetlands and ecologically functional which would also benefit visitors such as enhancing the value of the wider biodiversity of the valley. ”
Objector Susan Haynes, of Abbotstone Road, in a submission to council, said: “I oppose increased traffic on Abbotstone Road which is a single track road with a few crossings. Ten holiday lodges will generate too much traffic every day. ”
Louise and Ed Sankey, of Old Alresford, said: “We have no doubts this will cause immeasurable damage to the wildlife and to the tranquility of such a small hamlet. There will be a huge increase in traffic with both building and running a vacation park business. It appears to be a purely commercial endeavor with no benefit to the local community. ”
Colin Shaw said: “We run an agricultural subcontracting business out of Oxdrove Yard and have noted the increased use of the narrow gauge by all types of traffic including through traffic due to the use of satellite navigation systems.
“The track surface suffers, regularly flooding near the track leading to The Fulling Mill. farm vehicles required for our own and neighboring farm businesses. The road has limited visibility in places and limited ease for the passage of large machines throughout the locality. ”
Lady Vestey, of Old Park Road, Bishop’s Sutton, wrote: “I think this app has been veiled in some eco-friendly terms to hide the fact that it is in fact a commercial enterprise in an SSSI. ”
There was some local support. Julian Ashby, of Abbotstone Road, called the project “imaginative”.