Secretary of State's Enquiry
Summary of report
The Inspector recommended that planning permission be granted. For the reasons given below, the Secretary of State agrees with her conclusions and agrees with her recommendation.
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at IR171 that the fundamental issue in this case is whether the intended development, and in particular the access/egress to and from the development, would be safe for its users and remain safe throughout the lifetime of the development.
Accordance with the development plan and national policy
The Secretary of State considers that the proposed development is in accordance with the development plan, but that there is some conflict with national policy in PPS25. He has gone on to consider whether there are material considerations which outweigh this conflict.
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the Sequential Test and Exception Test are not to be applied and that it is appropriate to consider flood risk across the whole lifetime of the development, i.e. to 2015.
He further agrees with the Inspector that the residual risk to future residents is capable of management. The Secretary of State considers that flooding is not on its own a decisive factor in this case, and that it must be weighed in the planning balance against the benefits offered by the scheme.
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the benefits of the proposal to the outstanding heritage asset of Fort Gilkicker would be significant and substantial.
The Secretary of State concludes that the proposed development is in line with the development plan and would offer significant benefits in terms of the restoration of an important heritage asset. Although there is some conflict with national policy on flooding, he considers that the residual risk to future residents is capable of management and concludes that there are no material considerations which indicate that the application should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan.
Accordingly, for the reasons given above, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector s recommendation. He hereby grants planning permission for the restoration of Grade II* Scheduled Ancient Monument, conversion to 26 dwellings, residents stores and interpretation room, alteration of 2 mounds to create public viewing points and improvement of access road and junction, in accordance with application number K.9316/7, dated 20 August 2008, subject to the conditions set out at Annex A.
Extracts from the full report:
The proposal is for the conversion of the casemates and barrack blocks at 1st. floor and the addition of accommodation in the Fort in a lightweight frame structure at 2nd floor level, creating 26 dwellings in all. At ground floor level where there is no natural light there would be storage, and an interpretation centre in part of the barrack block. To convert the Fort the casemates would be emptied of concrete. The earth bank would be lowered along the southern elevation to a third of its present height, and the material used to raise the height of the east and west ends of the semi-circular Fort to create public viewing platforms linked in to the existing footpath network and Military Road. Within the eastern mound a new main entrance would be formed with a threshold above the 4.3m AOD flood level, and a lift with disabled accessibility. To stabilise the walls the weight of the roof would be reduced by removing the concrete capping, with modifications to arrest any further movement.
Military Road would be widened to 3m, and provided with a minimum level of 2.5m AOD between the junction with Fort Road and a point close to the Fort entrance into the parade ground. The existing passing place would be upgraded and an additional passing place provided. The road would have a shared surface with traffic management measures to prevent conflict between vehicles and pedestrians. A hammerhead turning space would be formed to the north of the barrack block. 48 parking spaces would be provided. A new mitre gate type flood barrier would be provided (in addition to the existing gates) at the entrance to the Fort.
The Landowner is to provide viewing mounds and public pathways, to be made available for continuous public access free of charge, and to be made available before the development is occupied. The Landowner is to provide the Interpretation Centre (within the old Guard cell) before occupation of the development. The Agreement specifies the opening hours (Monday to Friday 10:00-16:00) to which the Interpretation Centre would be subject, and provides for visitor access to the Parade Ground upon written request: access being subject to specified conditions.
For Askett Hawk
It is a benefit of some weight that the public will not only be allowed into the Fort (contrary to their exclusion for many years and in the future if permission is refused) but will be aided by an interpretation room and by a purpose-built viewing area on the new mound, which will afford excellent views of the structure from a more elevated position. These measures will bring the benefits of the less accessible aspects of the Fort to a wide public and should be given weight. Overall, the scheme’s effect on a Grade II* Listed Building, SAM and building at risk will be very substantially beneficial.
The Fort’s conversion will lead to the removal of a large amount of spoil (largely shingle from the beach with some topsoil) which currently forms the mound masking the granite walls of the Fort. This material will be deposited on the eastern beach, supplementing it. Thirdly, Military Road will be raised so as to increase its resilience against flooding, affording a greater length of time for any evacuation which might be necessary. There will be a flood rescue position for emergency access by boat in a flood, and a high level pedestrian entrance well above flood levels (on the eastern mound outside the front entrance of the Fort).
The junction of Fort Road with Military Road will be provided with access gates, information board and signage, which in an inundation event would secure the road at the northern end, wholly preventing vehicular traffic and acting as a clear indicator for all residents that access to the Fort is prevented . The Fort and access road would be provided with a system of warning lights and sirens to be sounded in a flood event , and CCTV monitoring of the road .
The proposal will impinge to some extent on the operation of the Golf Club, but not to the extent that recreational use of that land would be lost, or (given the evidence of membership) the club would close or anything of that kind. The proposal would markedly improve the character and appearance of the area.
There is no ecological harm suggested by Natural England or by the Council, and the interests of nature conservation would be adequately protected.
For Gosport Borough Council
The buildings have no prospect of being used again in their original function.
Every amenity group concerned with the historic fabric and survival of the building supports the proposal: namely, English Heritage, the Palmerston Forts Society, and the Gosport Society. Additionally and importantly, the Secretary of State gave Scheduled Monument Consent for the application scheme on 7 July 2009.
This case is considered by English Heritage as of great importance.
For the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency’s objection is mainly concerned with the issue whether the development will be safe for its intended use and occupants and its vulnerability is appropriate to its location.
For English Heritage
The proposed works would in large measure reinstate the original appearance and character of the mid-19th
century Fort, in revealing the imposing southern granite façade and its embrasures and the original layout of casemate spaces. The historic fabric would be cleaned and repaired, and original fittings repaired or carefully removed for display.
The Fort illustrates many of the technical innovations that characterise the defence constructed following the report of the Royal Commission on the defences of the United Kingdom in 1860.
The Fort is both scheduled as an ancient monument and listed as being of special architectural or historic interest. The interior is currently not open to the public.
It is English Heritage’s view that in this case the heritage values of those elements of the monument which would be lost (for example the complete removal of later military features to provide for the construction of new accommodation space above the casemate level) are decisively outweighed by others that would be revealed and restored. Externally, the unblocking of embrasures and the removal of earth banks would reveal an imposing granite south elevation and would restore the south-facing openings within casemates. Overall, the proposals take into account the importance of the building, pay a high level of respect to the particular features from which the significance of the building derives, and offer substantial benefits to the community through increased public access and through their contribution to the sense of place made by the Fort in relation to the Solent shoreline.
Fort Gilkicker is included on English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk programme. Its inclusion reflects evidence of slow deterioration and loss of significance. The programme constitutes a strategy of material significance and identifies those components of England’s heritage that are facing the greatest pressures and threats and mitigating those pressures to safeguard our unique legacy of historic places. At Fort Gilkicker long periods of disuse and the effects of water ingress have affected interior spaces within the Fort, with corresponding deterioration of interior surfaces and fittings. The monument is classified as a Priority D case: that is, one characterised by slow decay, where a conservation solution has been agreed but not yet implemented.
The proposal is for conversion to residential use, and not for new development. The opinion of English Heritage is that the proposals for residential conversion at Fort Gilkicker, which is a heritage asset of national importance, provide wider benefits to the community consistent with the Government’s approach to sustainable development.
The Fort would be a safe and resilient refuge in a flood event, with floor levels at 6.1m AOD, well above the design event levels. All essential services would be protected from flood water above the 1 in 200 year ‘at risk’ level of 4.3m AOD.
There would be no inundation event before the year 2062. The issue of safety for the intended occupiers will therefore not arise until a point in time more than half a century into the future.
The interior of the Fort itself would provide a safe refuge. The risk to future residents, arising from their use of the Military Road, would be minimised through the package of measures included in the Flood Warning and Evacuation Plan. That safe access and egress will not be possible during an inundation event would not in practice, if the measures were properly followed, necessarily increase the risk to residents.
The relevance of those measures to the residents would be always apparent from the location of the site at the very edge of the sea; from the stalwart appearance of the Fort, and from the low-lying nature of its northern surroundings. Given the exercise of free will in reacting to the inconvenience of evacuation, the residual risk could not be entirely eliminated: but it would be limited to the point where it would not be disproportionate to that involved in normal everyday life.
The emergency services have examined the Flood Warning Evacuation Plan and have no objection to the scheme.
The quality of Fort Gilkicker as a heritage asset is established by expert witnesses – including English Heritage – and is unquestioned, as are the risks of its further deterioration if nothing is done.
The Local Planning Authority judges the scheme to be a significant contribution to the perception and prosperity of Gosport and to be a benchmark for future restorations in Gosport and elsewhere.
There could be some loss of species from the banks to be excavated but that does not amount to evidence of material harm to the adjacent area of national nature conservation importance (Site of Special Scientific Iinterest), or to evidence that any of the species concerned would be permanently displaced.
On other matters, it is clear that local residents value the peace and informality of the open space around Fort Gilkicker, and their freedom to climb the existing mound. Under the proposals the informality would be somewhat reduced, but domesticity would not extend outside the Fort, the site being very restricted; and residents of the Fort out walking would be indistinguishable from others walking on the beach and surrounding footpaths.
There would be more vehicles on the Military Road. The passage of these vehicles could interrupt the drives of golfers on the holes that cross the road. The passage of walkers on the Solent Way already does this to some extent, and vice versa. It could be said with equal validity that golf play interferes with the passage of walkers, and with potentially more unsafe results. Oral evidence given for the Golf Club is that rearrangement of the greens would not be possible. However, this was not supported by plans or illustrations. The effect of such interference upon membership levels is hard to quantify. However, if flooding of the golf course is frequent as has been alleged, that in itself would constitute interference with play. As a material consideration to set against the restoration of the Fort Gilkicker heritage asset, the impact on the golf club is not of decisive or substantial weight.
In these circumstances, therefore, where the residual risk to future residents is capable of management, and other material considerations are of only limited weight: and where the benefits of the proposal to the outstanding heritage asset of Fort Gilkicker would be significant and substantial, the balance rests in favour
of the proposal.
I recommend that the application be approved subject to the conditions at Annex 1.
S. Holland Inspector
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