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CLOSURE AND DEMOLITION FOR FLEETWOOD LODGE

FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE BRIARY

EARLY NINTEENTH CENTURY BUILDING SET FOR EVICTION & DEMOLITION

Fleetwood Lodge Care Home based in Reading Road North has now officially closed, forcing all residents to find a new home in time for Christmas. The owner of the building, formerly known as The Briary, requested that all residents vacate the home before Monday (yesterday)…timing that some would argue is hardly full of Christmas spirit.

Although the closure and demolition had obviously been planned for quite some time by the owner of the property, relatives were only originally given two weeks verbal notice in October to find new homes for their relatives. This decision was challenged and a longer period was granted, although a pre-Christmas deadline was still enforced.

One relative affected by the closure said, “We were told in October that it was closing and initially we only had two weeks to find a new home. It’s very upsetting and awful, we’ve spent a lot of time crying to be honest. We had to find an alternate location and whilst not a million miles away it won’t be as easy to visit and is very unsettling for [my relative] and all the other residents. We had zero options from adult services until this week so it’s been really upsetting. It wasn’t just a home but an extended family”.

Below: Fleetwood Lodge (as it is currently known), from the website of Larchwood Care.

HISTORY OF THE BRIARY

The Briary, as it was known before its change in recent years to Fleetwood Lodge, is based within the North Fleet Conservation Area, which exists to protect the character and heritage of the local vicinity. It is believed the building has existed since the late 19th century and it was first given permission to be a care home in 1968. It has been a familiar sight in Fleet for decades and despite having multiple extensions over time, has retained a traditional appearance to its front facing aspect.

The Briary was originally believed to have consisted of two or three individual buildings called “Lawn Cottages”. These were named in the 1871 census and eventually joined together, with at least one cottage forming part of the familiar frontage. This is one of a dwindling amount of local buildings to be retained from this era, although sadly not for much longer it seems.

Below: North Fleet Conservation Area, with the Briary/Fleetwood Lodge marked in red.

Below: The Briary details from sale documents in 1928.

Below: Statement from Hart District Council.

COUNCIL HAS CHANGE OF HEART AND ALLOWS DEMOLITION

The owner of The Briary/Fleetwood Lodge building has sought to demolish it for a number of years now and originally applied for this back in 2016, when it was refused permission on the grounds that “The proposed care home, by virtue of its design, bulk and massing is unsympathetic and harmful to the character and appearance of this part of the North Fleet Conservation Area”.

It seems persistence does pay off though and in 2017, despite numerous objections from local people and organisations, approval was given, meaning the clock would start ticking until the building was completely destroyed. The reason for this? To build a newer, bigger care home that would span 3 storeys and house 60 beds. Fleetwood Lodge was licensed for 51 beds but only used 44, so it will be quite an increase in capacity with an extra 16 beds, adding to the fears of increased traffic on an already heavily used road. It seems one thing Fleet will never be short of are care homes…extensions to care homes…or even bigger care homes.

Below: Planning permission for demolition and a new building is refused in 2016…then granted in 2017.

CHANGE OF DESIGN

Many point to its neighbour, Campbell Place Care Home, as the inspiration for the 2017 design and indeed there do seem to be many similarities including, presumably, much higher charges for the residents. With the current owner possibly selling the site, does its next door neighbours have their eyes on an extended and extremely profitable venture?

Below: Campbell Place (top) front designs vs proposed Fleetwood Lodge designs (underneath) in 2017.

Below: Campbell Place (top) back design vs proposed Fleetwood Lodge design (underneath) in 2017.

Despite the sudden change of heart from the Council to allow the demolition of the original building, based on the plans submitted, there were many left unhappy by yet another modern eyesore in a traditional conservation area. Maybe it was partly for this reason that there has more recently been another design submitted for the new building, attempting to offer a more traditional look for the brand new care home, while glossing over the loss of the existing building. This appears to be backed up by the Fleet Local Plan.

Below: A change of heart from the Council in 2017.

Below: Latest designs submitted to replace the 2017 plans above. Dotted outlines show the 2017 plans in comparison.

WHERE DOES IT END?

Fleet is known as a wealthy area and certainly has a rapidly ageing population which appears to dominate the town. With investors keen to grab a slice of the action and care/elderly homes proving to be one of  the fastest growing and most profitable areas, many are asking where it will all end as the seemingly infinite demand for care home spaces and investors bank balances both grow at an alarming rate.

And what about the human face of such growth in the town? Talking to one person who was forced to relocate a relative, they stated:

“It’s been an terrible few months for the families and staff involved. I’m so angry as they charge a fortune to everyone staying there and they don’t always get the care and attention they need, then they treat them like this and throw them out of their own home.”

“We didn’t even know they we going to build another care home, they never told us anything. No letters given to us by the company, nothing in writing at all…just not handled very well. We all got told verbally by being invited into the home”.

So with local organisations and residents deeply upset over the loss of yet another old building in Fleet and increased traffic congestion…and with the residents forced to find new accommodation at short notice before Christmas, causing distress for both them and their families, it seems that yet again the only happy face in this scenario is the one that is profiting very nicely indeed from the venture.

As one devastated relative recently commented, “You would think there should be a law about this, a care company shouldn’t rent a building that is at risk of being sold by a greedy owner”. A statement that is hard to disagree with.

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