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Plans to build homes on a miniature golf course in Upminster were approved last night despite a “record number” of objections.
The Hall Lane Miniature Golf Course will be turned into 37 new homes by the council’s own development company, with 27 affordable units provided elsewhere in Romford.
Strident objections were raised about the loss of open space proposed but officers argued the current golf course is “surplus to requirements” and reminded councillors of the desperate need for housing.
Resident Lynden Alexander told the committee the application has “united the community in the way that no council policy ever has.”
He said that, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, “the value of open space is probably one hundred times more important than it was perceived to be in 2019”.
“Coronavirus has an isolating effect so anything that allows people to come together is a very important resource.
“If we do away with community spaces at a time when they are going to be more needed than ever, what you are doing is essentially damaging the very communities that we will need to restore.”
Councillor John Tyler (Upminster and Cranham Residents Group, Cranham) argued that “with nurturing” the site “could become an asset to Havering”.
He said: “The potential is there for this to be successful, it is within walking or cycling distance of several thousands of homes.
“This is not just a patch of open ground, this is a wonderful corner of Havering that should remain accessible for all.”
He added that the 37 homes “would not even scratch the surface of Havering’s housing needs” and claimed “the vast majority of trees would be cut down”.
Ward councillor Linda Van de Hende (Upminster and Cranham Residents Group, Cranham) and committee member Cllr Linda Hawthorn (Upminster & Cranham Residents’ Group leader, Upminister) both raised concerns about how the development would add to traffic.
Cllr Van de Hende said: “Upminster town centre is at capacity as far as traffic is concerned. TfL have frequently complained of bus delays due to the volume of traffic.”
Planning agent Stephen Walters argued that the golf course is not public space, as entrants are charged a fee, and requires a “substantial subsidy to operate” due to low use.
It was estimated that only 20 people a day use the course and highlighted that there are a number of alternative sites in close proximity.
Cllr Ray Best (Con, Havering Park) said: “Twenty people a day on average is really, really underused. If people wanted to use the pitch and putt they would go there.
“It’s a good development and I think the properties are sorely needed.”
Cllr Keith Darvill (Labour leader, Heaton) agreed: “It’s very evident a number of residents prefer that there’s open space there but very few of them actually use it because they do not have access.
“There’s a dire need for housing, every day of the week we, as councillors, are dealing with housing issues.
“I do not think we should disregard another 37 homes, it adds to our overall numbers. Many people would like to have homes like this.”
A Tree Preservation Order will cover “the most important trees on the site”, including a number of ancient oaks.
The application was approved with a majority of five votes against three.