Application threatening historic dockyard refused at planning

Campaigners were jubilant after an application involving the construction of three blocks of flats and the demolition of part of the listed dockyard wall in the best preserved Georgian residential quarter in any of Britain's Royal dockyards was thrown out by Swale Borough Council.

The application, which was widely opposed by local and national groups including SAVE, the Georgian Group, the Ancient Monuments Society and the Naval Dockyards Society, had been recommended for approval by council officers but was refused by the planning committee on 22 July following a site visit.

William Palin, SAVE's Secretary, welcomed the news, 'SAVE is delighted that this damaging application has been refused. The councillors on the planning committee deserve enormous credit. They have showed courage, independence of mind and an acute understanding of the issues and it is heartening to see how they have responded to huge local and national opposition to this scheme.

With the entire historic dockyard now under a national spotlight, these are exciting times for Sheerness and for Sheppey. SAVE will continue to campaign for the heritage-led regeneration of this unique and vulnerable historic site.'

ARTICLE HISTORY - how this story developed:

25 June

The council has defered a decision on this application to allow a site visit on 13 July. This will be a public visit and will commence at 9am on the open land in front of Naval Terrace. For more information contact the planning department at Swale Borough Council.

16 June

SAVE calls for council to reject damaging proposals as new application threatens to wreck Britain's forgotten Georgian dockyard.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has joined forces with the World Monuments Fund Britain, the Georgian Group and other conservation bodies in calling for the rejection of a scheme which threatens one of the important historic sites in the South East. The area at risk is a spectacular Regency residential quarter hidden within Sheerness Dockyard in Kent. The enclave includes a Regency Terrace - five Grade II* listed houses, Dockyard House - an elegant mansion, and a series of other buildings all dating from the 1820s. It is believed to be the largest group of vacant II* listed domestic buildings in the south of England.

This site, which holds the key for the regeneration of the entire historic dockyard as well as the wider region, is subject to a massive development proposal, involving the breaching of the listed dockyard wall and the construction of 3 new blocks of flats. The entire dockyard hit the headlines in October 2009 when it was included in the World Monuments Fund 2010 Watch, an international call to action on behalf endangered heritage sites worldwide. The dockyard was nominated by SAVE with the backing of a number of leading heritage campaigners including Dan Cruickshank and Gavin Stamp.

In the words of SAVE’s Secretary, William Palin ‘this development would shatter the fragile landscape of this remarkable historic site. Given that the existing houses would be snapped up by restoring owners if put on the market SAVE can see no case for this scale of development. Sheerness Dockyard stands at a crossroads - with the backing of the World Monuments Fund Britain there is a real opportunity now to reverse many years of neglect and to heal one of the most important and overlooked late Georgian enclaves in the country. If this application is granted then Swale will be waving goodbye to one of its most valuable historic assets - and throwing away the key to the regeneration of the whole Isle of Sheppey and adjoining coast.

Marcus Binney, SAVE’s President says:

‘Before even considering granting planning permission, the council planning committee should look at the nearby houses in Naval Terrace just outside the dockyard and see how they have been well restored as single houses by individual owners. No enabling development was necessary and both the back gardens and shared front lawn have been preserved as well as a large shared area of grass and matures trees which is open to all to walk in. The new blocks of flats proposed are so near to the houses in Regency Close that it will render them unsalable as single houses and devalue the whole site. This proposal is a monstrous case of garden grabbing.’

Robert Bargery, Secretary of the Georgian Group, says:

‘It is critical we take decisions now that are in the long-term interests of the dockyard and Sheerness as a whole. There is always a risk of short-termism and opting for what look like quick fixes but that can wreck the prospects for lasting regeneration. The key asset that we have at Sheerness is the historic dockyard and it is essential we safeguard what survives and develop its potential in the most sensitive way possible. This is a watershed moment when the key national and international heritage agencies stand ready to help Swale create something of lasting social, economic and heritage value. Let's make sure we don't squander the opportunity.

David Gundry, Project Director, World Monuments Fund Britain says:

‘The extraordinary value of Sheerness Dockyard is displayed in the rare and collective survival of many elements of administrative, residential, industrial and architectural fabric. Sheerness’s inclusion in the WMF 2010 Watch List both recognises this and acknowledges the threats to the integrity of the entire site. Inappropriate development such as this will destroy a fundamental part of the heritage value, and will likely hinder the sustainable development of the area in the long run.’

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