Battle intensifies over future of precious Plymouth green

Residents in land next to Wilmot Gardens, Crownhill, protest against plans to build on green space, in 2021 - now there is a fresh application
-Credit: (Image: Matt Gilley/PlymouthLive)


A battle is intensifying over plans to build homes on the only green space in a huge Plymouth housing estate with protesters demanding the decision be made by elected councillors and not unelected council staff. More than 40 people have submitted objections to a proposal for housing on the plot in the Wilmot Gardens area of Crownhill.

The future of the Plymouth City Council-owned land, which neighbouring residents say is the only place for children to play in the area, was due to be decided by council officers. But campaigners want councillors to make the call and the council’s head of strategic planning and infrastructure, Paul Barnard, is now weighing whether to let the planning committee decide.

Residents have been fighting plans to develop the 1,347sq m site and cut down trees for three years. An initial planning application was withdrawn after protests in 2021.

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But earlier this year developer Darren Wills, of Classic Builders (SW) Ltd, submitted proposals to construct five affordable homes on the patch of land. The Crownhill Local Area Residents Association (Clara) continues to protest, and is now supported by Plymouth Tree Partnership.

Clara is demanding that the decision is made by elected councillors and not council officers. A spokesperson for Clara said: “Since 2021, Clara has opposed any planned development on our final remaining piece of green land in the community.

“This land is used by many young children from across our community to play on — there’s simply nowhere else they can go to play on green land without having to cross dangerous roads and walk more than a mile. Dog-walkers, the elderly and the vulnerable also regularly use this space and if it is lost to development, then they lose this vital green area in the heart of our community.

“Then there’s the issue of the trees. Some of these trees are large and mature, and they sit in an ancient hedgerow.

“There is no evidence of any tree being diseased, so surely these should be protected in their entirety. If that prevents development of five dwellings then so be it — our natural resources are more important than trying to cram homes on to a small-yet-important green space. The potential loss of wildlife — including foxes, hedgehogs, bats, birds and butterflies — also greatly concerns us.”

Clara said it is “unacceptable” that the future of the site be decided by council staff under delegated powers. The action group said the process for calling-in a planning application for discussion by committee, which can be done by a ward councillor before the end of a public consultation, is confusing for the public.

The spokesperson said: “There were 41 objections from members of our community in relation to this application on council-owned land. We believe that should be sufficient reason for this to be debated at a future planning committee meeting.

“On council-owned sites, when there’s a weight of opposition, the authority should be held to account. That’s all we are asking for: a chance for this to be discussed in a fair, open and democratic manner in a public forum.”

Clara is now calling for changes to the planning procedures and the spokesperson said: “The planning process needs to change in terms of applications like this. You could have 1,000 objections but your ward councillors may not want to call it in or they may misunderstand the process and miss the deadline — and then there’s no policy in place whereby council tax payers can request the matter be discussed in public. This is unacceptable and needs to change.”

The spokesperson added: “We understand the need for affordable housing in Plymouth but this green space greatly contributes to the health and wellbeing of our community. It is indeed a community hub, particularly over the summer months.

“Why is there an urgent need for this development? If it goes ahead then the community loses a valuable space and potentially mature trees in an ancient hedgerow. If it doesn’t go ahead, only five homes are lost. This green should be enhanced for the community rather than being built on”

A Plymouth City Council spokesperson said: “The planning application for Wilmot Gardens has yet to be determined and additional information and clarifications are currently being sought from the applicant. The planning application is currently delegated and the service director for strategic planning infrastructure is currently considering whether the planning application should be referred to the planning committee for determination.

“This application has been through the statutory consultation process and all representations are being considered before the planning officer responsible for the application makes a final recommendation. The planning application will be dealt with in the normal way once all the information has been received and assessed.”

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