Councillors are being advised to turn down a 250-space staff car park for Torbay Hospital on land once used as a camp by the homeless.
The new ‘Park and Stride’ space is proposed for land alongside Riviera Way in Torquay opposite the main hospital site.
The site is off Nicholson Road next to the County Court, near The Willows retail centre.
A planning statement says the site next to the court car park was previously used as an ‘illegal encampment’ and there was evidence of drug use.
It says when the site was cleared a small number of young trees in an area with a tree protection order were accidentally cut down, but adds that work to remedy the issue has been agreed with council officers.
The hospital says the new car park is an important part of its planning for a major rebuild and is crucial to support delivery of care services due to pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic.
But planning officers are recommending the scheme is refused because the plans fail to show how it would not have a negative impact on the protected landscape, biodiversity and local roads.
Councillors have been told the site, which includes a woodland border alongside the main route into Torquay, is identified as a ‘Local Green Space’.
The policy in the Torbay Neighbourhood Plan rules out development there except in ‘very special circumstances’.
The land was originally set aside for a new magistrates’ court which was approved in 1992 but that never went ahead after the town centre courthouse closed. The site was granted permission for a temporary car park in 2001, which was not built.
Since then, the Neighbourhood Plan was approved at a referendum in 2019 and it now forms part of the local planning framework.
A report from the council’s planning officers says the Highways Authority is not against the principle of the scheme but needs more information about how it would be run and the effect on local traffic.
Highways consultants WSP, on behalf of the council, raise concerns that it would encourage single-occupancy car trips, increase traffic around The Willows retail centre, and add to pressure on Nicholson Road.
The report says traffic signals would need upgrading at pedestrian crossing points at the junction of Riviera Way and Newton Road.
The planning officers’ report says the site is also identified as an Urban Landscape Protection Area and the car park ‘would result in unacceptable harm to the character or visual amenities of the locality’.
The application for the car park is from Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and Belstone Fox Project Management Ltd.
Statements on their behalf say it would be leased by the trust for an initial 15 years and the 250 spaces including 25 electric vehicle charging points would be for staff on day shifts.
They say the car park would not cause extra journeys and it would reduce on-street parking around the hospital.
A planning statement from consultants Clarke Willmott on behalf of the applicants says there is not enough parking on the hospital site for staff and visitors and there is no space for more.
It says the scheme would improve the protected landscape and the area proposed for the car park should not have been included in the Local Green Space.
The consultants say the benefits of the development outweigh any harm because it is essential for the trust’s operational needs.
A study in 2015 said the hospital site needed 200 extra spaces for the public and 53 more for the disabled, some of which have been provided.
The planning statement says the trust has an ‘urgent and strategic need’ for the new car park which is an ‘essential part’ of its medium- to long-term planning for a major rebuilding programme.
It says the area of woodland on the site bordering Riviera Way with a tree protection order would be safeguarded and managed through a landscaping scheme and would screen the site.
Overall the proposals would improve and enhance the landscape quality, biodiversity and the urban environment.
The statement said: “The hospital has historically struggled with parking capacity on the site and still has an urgent and pressing need for both public and staff car parking spaces to support the delivery of health services.
“There is no scope for the trust to meet its parking needs within the hospital site and the trust has for some time, been seeking an off-site parking solution to help manage the significant parking issues on the acute Hospital site.”
The statement said the Covid-19 pandemic was ‘putting a further strain on the hospital’s operational capacity with unprecedented demands for our services and in support of our key workers at a time of restricted public transport’.
It said: “This additional need is predicted to continue for at least 18 months, during this period the trust will be under increasing pressure to continue to manage the Covid pandemic, alongside winter pressures and also to increase elective activity whereby activity demands will significantly increase to manage down waiting lists etc.
“Increasing car-parking capacity as soon as is possible is therefore critical to support the delivery of care services.”
Torbay Council’s planning committee will consider the application at a meeting on Monday, September 14.