Historic pleasure gardens in Plymouth could be destroyed

A community is up in arms over plans to redevelop a precious piece of woodland and replace it with apartments or a new care home.

The secret pleasure gardens in Stoke are a haven for wildlife and there is even a pair of breeding buzzards (a protected species) currently using the woods to hunt.

The Nelson Pleasure Gardens can only currently be accessed by residents living in Nelson Gardens and are only accessible via the back of the majority of these properties.

Launching a petition online to save the woods, where the trees are thought to be covered by an environmental protection order, mum Justine Kimberley writes: “It is a well-loved, well-used and well-valued space to all residents who have access, frequently used for dog owners on the road. I myself use it almost daily to explore with my three-year-old son.

“The area contains a ton of wildlife, beautiful trees, plants, flowers, bushes, and is a real treasure to our community on this road that would be devastating to lose.

“Plymouth does not need to lose another green space when these spaces are already so limited, and especially not in place of 11 new [dwellings].

“This is our home, the gardens and wooded area were the main pull for us to choose this wonderful place for our home. This is not what I signed up for and I am not prepared to sit back and watch a gorgeous green space be torn down.”

The pre-application is for 11 new apartments or a new care home, with a new access road created off Collingwood Road.

Old plans of the area show the park was once a grassy expanse with meandering paths for people to stroll through at their leisure.

The land backs onto the houses that run along Nelson Gardens. Built originally as private houses in what was a fashionable 19th-century suburb, the were named Lord Nelson House after being converted into 16 flats by development company Gulland Properties in 1998.

Gulland’s earlier Plymouth projects included Hermitage Villa in Mannamead, Wingfield Villas and Wingfield Mansions in Stoke. At Nelson Gardens they took on buildings that were about to be demolished, having been allowed to decay by previous owners.

Immediately below are private gardens, to which the lower ground floor flats have direct access, and the precious wooded area through which residents can roam.

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Local historian Richard Fisher wrote in the Stonehouse Voice that gardens, or pleasure grounds, were “all the rage ‘must have’ additions” to wealthy estates in the mid 18th century.

He said: “Early gardens were simple with displays of exotic new plants and trees imported from overseas, especially from the New World. Later, other attractions were added encouraging further visits and providing another source of revenue.”

There are lost pleasure gardens – small and large – across the UK. Some have been maintained or restored, while others have been reclaimed by nature.

In a blog about the rise and role of public parks and green spaces, which you can find here, it says: “The public park movement arose out of a need to improve health in the overcrowded conditions of rapidly growing industrial towns and by the end of the Victorian era the need for public open space had become widely appreciated. Public parks provided an area for children to play, places for adults to sit and contemplate life, appreciate horticultural displays and meet other people. It was believed that such areas provided fresh air, recreation, and natural beauty but there was also the idea that they increased moral health too.

“Plymouth was no exception to the idea that public parks were beneficial to its ever growing population. There are several large public parks and numerous smaller ones which are still used and enjoyed by people who live locally and those who visit the area.”

The planning application has already received 67 letters of objection meaning the matter would have to be debated in front of Plymouth’s planning committee.

Local resident Marilyn Goldsbrough writes: “There have been previous applications refused or withdrawn 1989, 1991, and in 1992 a packed public meeting with the council on a filthy January night, plans were outlined for three luxury houses exiting onto Collingwood Road. The suggestion was made that the site should become a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and it was unanimously agreed. Details of what orders were placed on the site have not been located, but it is covered by a Tree Conservation Order.”

She went on to name several specific objections to the site’s redevelopment, including traffic issues, damage to wildlife, and an “over abundance of care homes within the immediate vicinity of this proposal”.

Another objector, TIm Nokes, says: “We have several real concerns about such an application. […] The planned entrance to the new development is from Collingwood Road,which provides access to the primary school and temporary parking for parents around drop-off and pick-up times. This is already a narrow road, so the increase in traffic and footfall will be hazardous and potentially unsafe.

Nelson Pleasure Gardens as they once looked
Nelson Pleasure Gardens as they once looked
(Image: Plymouth City Council)
Developer's plans for the protected green space
Developer’s plans for the protected green space
(Image: Plymouth City Council)

“[…] Collingwood Road is the archetypal road for which a Conservation area is designated; it is generally quiet regarding traffic and footfall outside of school times, with numerous birds (owls, various birds of prey) and other animals clearly audible at all times of the day and night.

“[…] This mature woodland area provides a hub for numerous flora and fauna, the whole point of which is to enable the local habitat to flourish. With current concerns around climate and threats to important species, we should be making every effort at preserving such areas.”

PlymouthLive could not find the details for the developer to contact them for comment. You can find the full pre-application here.

Plymouth Live