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Patricia ‘Paddy’ Stephenson: public benefactor

With an admirable spirit, she fought for local improvements, and saved Robsack Wood for future generations.  Bernard McGinley remembers an intrepid fighter and friend.

One of St Leonards’ most spirited campaigners, Mrs Paddy Stephenson, died in early May, of a non-covid illness. Paddy was a fearless advocate of a better Borough.  Her causes and comments were many, but she was always polite and to-the-point. Responding to the news, Peter Chowney, until recently the Leader of the Council, said:   

I rather liked her.  She took an avid interest in her local community and although she was often critical of the council and of me, she did also say when she thought I’d got something right too.  I shall miss her.

Don’t grumble campaign!

If Paddy had had a motto, it might have been the line above.  She was always open about the way in which poor decisions (questionably made) affected her for the worse as well as the environment, and said so in many letters and emails.       

There was no shortage of decisions or actions or inactions of the local planning department, or Planning Committee, that provoked her.  

Among them were the proposals to fill the Archery Ground with ‘units’.  (For those not around to remember, the first plan was a real shocker.)  Similarly the treatment of bat-roosting sites and of trees engaged her especially trees in ancient woodland, or supposedly protected by Tree Protection Orders. In the summer of 2013 she objected to the proposals for a gypsy and traveller site near Crowhurst Road, as elderly residents were being bullied. 

Another tussle involved the development of 123 West Hill Road, the former Malmesbury House. The developers cited permission from 1988, and there were many wildlife abuses in clearing the site.  (The police Wildlife Officer took the peculiar view that the gulls had removed any evidence of dead wildlife.) Eventually Paddy filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, unsuccessfully, but the site remains unbuilt on.

The abandoned building sites at the northern end of Fern Road are indirect testimony to her concern about the threats to Hollington Stream and the local water table. She asked how permission for small houses somehow led to overbearing ones.  (How many minor amendments does it take to become a major amendment?) The developer is believed to be in receivership.

Abandoned site in Fern Road. There’s another across the road.

Paddy kept up with reforms, such as how Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) sidestepped traditional requirements.  Also, she queried the wisdom of the Council getting involved in the commercial property market long before coronavirus led to economic fears.  Earlier this year she was sceptical of the Bulverhythe Recreation Ground proposals:

Surely this merits further publicity?  A recent statement by the Environment Agency has issued strong warnings about building homes on flood plains . . . and Bulverhythe is a notorious flood plain.

From London to the seaside

None of this should suggest that Paddy was a whinger. Far from it. She sought the best and thought that the Council should too. 

Paddy grew up in Ealing, West London, and lived there much of her life — but with her husband and four children she lived in Jamaica for a while until she was suddenly widowed. She was the chief officer for Age Concern Ealing for 16 years until her retirement in 2003. The unfairness of elderly, sometimes confused people, struggling to fill in complex application forms was an abiding concern.

For several years in succession she won the local Ealing in Bloom private garden competition. In later years, after visiting various hot faraway places in the sun (India, the Maldives, Kenya, Greece, Cuba, Jamaica again), she was content with a life sunning it on the beach or in her woodland back garden, watching badgers, foxes, birds, squirrels or seagulls at play.

Paddy moved to St Leonards in  2006. She retired here, but did not enjoy it as much as she hoped to, partly because of the local planning department. Instead she got busy. The lines from the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper seem right:

I’m taking the time for a number of things
That weren’t important yesterday.

     (Fixing a Hole)

She could be critical of the meekness of local people in the face of bad decision-making, and deplored the situation     

if the residents of this town cannot be bothered to stand up and make a stand but leave it to the few.

However she wasn’t always agitating. A beach hut in Bulverhythe was one consolation, and sea-breezes and trees and the glories of nature.  

The sun in Robsack

Robsack Wood

In the Council’s Development Management Plan (2014) there were proposals to put 32 units on Site GH1 (near Church Wood Drive), and expand access through the ancient woodland.

There were hearings at Horntye about the Plan, held by the Planning Inspectorate.  With some pessimism, she went and made detailed representations to the Inspector.  Following a site visit, Inspector Hollox in 2015 issued his Modification that the site  should not be built on. Pessimism turned to delight. When the Labour Party manifesto in 2017 claimed as an ‘Achievement’ the saving of Robsack, she was understandably not amused, as the statement was the reverse of the truth. Following legal delays she wrote to the local paper, and earlier this year she wrote crisply to the Council:

The campaign to save this section from development was successful thanks to the local government inspector’s decision and the 200 strong campaign group seven year fight to save this important biodiverse site. It was under threat of development until the campaign group along with the local plan inspector managed to halt this shocking plan.

HBC seal on the red-hatched addition to the Local Nature Reserve

Robsack is now part of the Church Wood and Robsack Wood Local Nature Reserve.  Recently the Council made the final confirmation of its new status. The Local Nature Reserve, shaded green in the map, was extended to cover the red-shaded area. 

Her friend and a former St Leonards resident Richard Heritage said: 

We first met 12 years ago.  Paddy has just got started on her mission to save the wonderful Robsack Meadow from development by HBC. We worked together, among others, for seven years until she finally convinced the Planning Inspector to remove it from the Local Plan. During that campaign and after we paired up on some other local environmental/ecological issues. A fantastic lady with such qualities of determination, tenacity, perseverance, perspicacity and strength. I used to call her the “Boudicca of Robsack” in her mission to save it. A pleasure to have known and worked with her.

There is no doubt that Paddy Stephenson, as a friend and activist and campaigner for a better Borough, will be missed. Robsack will permanently remind us of her.

Robsack trees

 

 

 

Posted 14:01 Tuesday, May 19, 2020 In: Hastings People

8 Comments

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  1. Keith & Margaret Piggott

    We could not attend Paddy’s funeral but her son Richard kindly forwarded
    the Service, Eulogy, and his personal Tribute. His tribute is deeply moving.

    Yet reading it suggests that we hardly knew Paddy, who had packed life into life itself in so many ways.. there was so much more to her than even our admiration and profound respect ever knew.

    In my life I recognise some parallels, by such is robust character created and Paddy exemplified robust character. Richard also his sisters are right to be so proud of her. Their grief is normal, it also brings to mind those wonderful memories to assuage their grief and be thankful for Paddy’s exceptional life.

    Comment by Keith & Margaret Piggott — Wednesday, Jun 17, 2020 @ 22:19

  2. Zelly Restorick

    Paddy was an amazing woman. She fought hard with dedication for what she believed in and cared about. She was a frequent comment-maker on HOT and her words were always direct and to the point, proving how passionately she cared about the town, planning and especially nature.
    I was shocked to read of her death – and saddened that she should no longer be here, fighting for those causes close to her heart.
    She will be much missed – and as in a previous comment, if only more people were like Paddy.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Monday, Jun 1, 2020 @ 12:43

  3. Chris Lewcock

    Excellent article Bernard. Paddy was a dynamic force, and like a dog with a bone once she got her teeth into an issue – on many of which she has been proved right.

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Monday, May 25, 2020 @ 08:46

  4. Lynne Okines

    Excellent article Bernard – I think that it sums up Paddy perfectly.

    We met through Watchdog, a group of local residents that were campaigning against bad planning decisions – hers Robsack and ours Hawthorn Road where a local developer wanted to revive a 30 year old planning permission using evidence that a retaining wall and certain car parking spaces were built for the purpose of the development and was therefore extant – it took us three long years to prove otherwise.

    Lately we have been involved with ‘Save Ecclesbourne Glen Campaign Group’ and Paddy gave us her support, as we did her when she was campaigning to save trees that were due to be felled in ancient woodland.

    Her campaigning and achievements in saving Robsack from development will be there for future generations, and are a testament to her iron will and determination to fight to the bitter end to get the right results.

    Through the years we became friends and would chat about our rescue cats, after the planning issues had been got out of the way, as both it seems are cut from the same cloth and are completely mad – their antics were so similar that Paddy would swear that they were related. I shall miss her as a colleague and friend – RIP Paddy.

    Comment by Lynne Okines — Friday, May 22, 2020 @ 07:56

  5. Keith & Margaret Piggott

    As high Covid-19 risk septuagenarians we deeply regret cannot pay our respects to our friend ’Paddy’ Stephenson’ – at her Hastings Cemetery and Crematorium funeral today, 21st May 2020.

    ‘Paddy’ was a vivacious and dynamic lady, Bernard McGinley’s tribute is well said, joined by Richard Heritage. We first met ‘Paddy’ when, through the grapevine, she heard of H.M.The Queen’s Jubillee weekend masacre of our precious trees a week before TPO’s were signed on 13th June 2012, when she offered her support. Paddy’s usual suspects had colluded to allow our Victorian arboretum’s nesting birds and bat roosts to be felled. With Bernard, she came to our home with Richard, Harrogate insurance fraud investgator, whose insights into planners, developers, and police, opened our eyes.

    Later, as close friend, Richard acted pro-bono to investigate investment fraudsters colluding against our son, a matter sadly still ongoing. Together we joined and supported Paddy in her subsequent campaigns for proper administration of government and safeguarding public funds. She never shall be equalled.

    Keith and Margaret Piggott

    Comment by Keith & Margaret Piggott — Thursday, May 21, 2020 @ 19:17

  6. Pam Brown

    Thank you for publishing well earned tributes to Paddy Stephenson. I had worked with her to prevent building on Robsack. Paddy never gave up, and prior to the Inspector granting her bid
    to save the site (What a fantastic case she made at the Planning Inquiry- so many pages of evidence to make the case). What a triumph when she heard she had won.
    The very best tribute we can all give to a much revered fighter, is to make sure that the Labour
    manifesto DELETES the claim to have ‘Saved Robsack’.
    Along with Richard Heritage, I tried to get this assurance, but so far it has not been forthcoming.
    I now appeal to Labour’s new council leader to correct this travesty of justice.
    Goodbye Paddy, Robsack will always be there to salute you.

    Comment by Pam Brown — Thursday, May 21, 2020 @ 10:36

  7. Michael Madden

    If only more people were like Paddy.

    Although I never actually met her and we did not seem to share political views, we had plenty of email discussions about the local council, and I shared her frustrations, along with others.

    She was right to criticise the way that “residents of this town cannot be bothered to stand up and make a stand but leave it to the few.”

    Although it’s a complete pain in the butt to have to engage with the intricacies of planning policy in order to oppose the often undemocratic, untransparent and unaccountable actions of local planning officers, if people just leave all the hard work to others, then they will see the places and things they love in Hastings and St Leonards gradually disappear.

    The few individuals who have made it their daily job to hold the council’s shambolic planning department to account (including the SEG group) should be seen as local heroes. But instead, the council’s chief legal officer tries to dismiss them as “vexatious complainants” and seems to regard them as middle-class nimbies.  Meanwhile the council stands by as H & St L gets vandalised by developers and contractors.  It’s stupidity of a high order.

    Paddy helped to show that they’re not vexatious or nimbies. I hope that others will follow her example.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Wednesday, May 20, 2020 @ 15:50

  8. Bolshie

    Thank you Bernard a superb article about my dear friend Paddy.
    You did her proud!
    One of my best friends I will never forget!

    Comment by Bolshie — Tuesday, May 19, 2020 @ 16:32

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