A COUNTRY estate has defended its ambitious plans to convert redundant watercress beds into a holiday site.

The Grange Estate has applied to create a wetland habitat and build ten holiday lodges at Fobdown Watercress Beds, Abbotstone Road, near Old Alresford. The scheme would also see the demolition of redundant buildings, the creation of new tracks, reed bed drainage and landscaping.

It has met with strong opposition locally with around 50 objections since the plan was unveiled in 2019.

In a statement Lord Ashburton said: "As riparian owners the estate takes great care to protect and enhance the health of the beautiful local chalk streams which it owns.

"The Fobdown scheme removes the infrastructure of watercress farming which was harmful to that ecosystem and seeks to replace it with wetland habitat which, contrary to some claims, will be extremely positive for many key species and will absorb harmful nitrates.

"The low-impact holiday accommodation which we are seeking as part of our scheme has been designed as a couple's retreat and will enable people seeking tranquility and proximity to this beautiful landscape to fully appreciate it. Given the sensitivity of the location the proposals have been exhaustively reviewed and approved in line with environmental regulations, they are low intensity and they are supported by a range of consultees including the Itchen Stoke and Ovington Parish Council, and the chairman of the Upper Itchen Initiative, a stakeholder group which seeks to protect the local ecosystem."


CGI of the scheme. Image: Grange Estate

CGI of the scheme. Image: Grange Estate


A decision has been due at the city council planning committee last week but it was postponed to allow for consideration of recent feedback from the public since the committee papers were published.

The site was operated as a watercress farm by Vitacress until 2016 when it was bought by the Grange Estate. The farm used water from the Candover Brook, a tributary of the Itchen.

Planning officers at the city council supported the scheme with benefits including the removal of a Leylandii conifer hedge and the panting of native broadleaved trees.

Itchen Stoke and Ovington Parish Council support the plan, calling it "visionary" as it would entail the removal of extensive concrete structures using for the growing of watercress and create extensive wetland of "huge ecological benefit".

The Alresford Society disagreed, saying it would create "unacceptable visual and noise intrusion and alter the character of the area".

Objections include an increase in traffic through Abbotstone Road, the impact on wildlife from the development, noise and light pollution and fears the lodges may be converted to dwellings in the future.

A report for the Grange Estate by consultants RM Wetlands and Environment said: "The cessation of commercial watercress cultivation was recognised by local stakeholders, including the Upper Itchen Group, the Environment Agency and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, as representing an opportunity to enhance the ecology of the site and to improve the overall ecological functioning of the Candover valley and the wider SAC.

"The assessment of the various elements indicates that it would be feasible to create and restore wetlands within the site in the location occupied by the former watercress beds. There is sufficient water available to maintain attractive and ecologically functional wetlands which would benefit the visitors as well as enhancing the wider biodiversity value of the valley."


The watercress beds seen from Abbotstone Road. Photo: WCC

The watercress beds seen from Abbotstone Road. Photo: WCC

What do you think? Write to letters@hampshirechronicle.co.uk