A STORM has erupted over plans for a car park on a historic meadow on the edge of Winchester.

The Hospital of St Cross wants to build a 57-space car park on St Cross Park close to the medieval almshouses.

The hospital, a charitable almshouse, founded in 1136, says the car park would cater for the events that it hosts such as weddings, memorial services, fetes and concerts.

It proposes to put down a form of mesh that allows grass to grow through but can also support vehicles. No tarmac is proposed.

But in the last few days the application has sparked a furore from local people with more than 50 formal objections.

The reaction has been so strong that the hospital, a charitable almshouse, founded in 1136, has withdrawn the application for public consultation.

In a statement it said: "The annual cost of operating, maintaining, improving the medieval buildings is significant. Accordingly, there is a subtle and challenging balance between maintaining the status quo and ensuring that the buildings and their tranquil setting are still available for future generations to enjoy.

"In recent years, the Hospital of St Cross has become a popular location for weddings, baptisms, funerals and various community events. These events make a significant financial contribution towards the maintenance of the buildings each year and ensuring a sustainable future.

"However, there are relatively limited public transport services available which provide regular efficient service to St Cross, and no service connecting to the Park & Ride. Significantly there is insufficient car parking available on site to cater for such events. Advice provided by Historic England in 2014 acknowledged that the existing parking arrangements are unsatisfactory, and a longer-term solution is necessary.

"It is disappointing to see words like ‘vandalism’ being used by (no doubt well-meaning) individuals but with little insight to the difficulties facing the Trustees in achieving an appropriate balance.

"Far from ignoring the community, the Trustees are seeking to make provision to ensure the surrounding roads are not congested by event parking. Indeed, one of the groups that will benefit most from the car park, every Sunday, are the local parishioners of St Faiths.

"Regrettably, it appears as though there has been a degree of misinformation circulated in response to the proposals which has contributed to a higher level of objection than was anticipated from sections of the community. In response, the Trustees have taken the decision to withdraw the application in favour of holding a public consultation event to be held in due course. This will enable relevant and accurate information to be discussed with the community."

Among the objectors was Dr Marjorie Huntley, a teacher at Winchester College, of Grange Road, St Cross, who said: “This is outrageous. It looks like the application has been snuck through so far.

“They want to bring in tourists and have applied to build the car park under the cloak that it will be ‘easier for ambulances to attend’. Now, I live in St Cross and that’s a load of rubbish. Ambulances have always gone through the front gate.

“To even propose building on the Water Meadows is ridiculous. The increase in traffic would be a nightmare and the public would probably think it’s okay to use it instead of the Park and Ride.”

Michael Carden, of the City of Winchester Trust, said: "The trust are very concerned about this. It will need to investigate this further."

George Sausmarez Smith, architect, of Ranelagh Road, wrote: "The landscape in which this new car park is proposed has remained undeveloped for hundreds of years. Its open character is an essential part of the unique setting of St Cross church as it is approached from the south.

"A proper analysis of the importance of this landscape is entirely lacking from the application documents; it is likely to be part of a formal landscape designed by John Nash in the early 19th century and was also the inspiration of John Keats's poem Ode to Autumn. St Cross Church is famous nationally and internationally for its unspoilt setting and it would be a tragedy for the city of Winchester if cars were to be parked in this highly sensitive location."

The application states: "There is currently insufficient parking to meet the needs of the Brothers, staff and

visitors to the Hospital. There is some limited parking for up to 12 cars along The Gravels although this is restricted by the width of the lane. There is also scope for limited ad hoc parking within the inner and outer courtyards of the Hospital, however, the Trustees do not favour this because of the impact on the special

character and appearance of this group of important buildings."