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Where do the Tory and Labour candidates stand on future developments in the Country Park?

Country Park pledges from Rudd and Owen

Concerned over recent developments in the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve (HCPNR), Michael Madden, a former member of the Save Ecclesbourne Glen lobby group, decided to check out where the local Conservative and Labour candidates stand on these issues. Here he discusses his findings.

I recently sent two letters with the same four questions to Amber Rudd and Sarah Owen in anticipation of the May election. I told both candidates that their answers would be published. It may interest Country Park lovers to hear their replies. My questions were:

1.  Will you state openly that you will protect the interests of the Hastings people against any plans to sell off any parts of their Country Park Nature Reserve?

2.  Will you commit to pushing for the widest and most open and democratic consultation of the community before any political decisions are acted on (whichever Party wins the local council elections next year) that might adversely affect the Country Park?

3.  Whichever Council is voted in next year, will you help to ensure that the Glen and the Country Park are adequately protected and that no recurrence of slack planning practices are tolerated, as they have been under this Labour administration?

4. The consequences of the recent slack planning practises have been copiously outlined by Save the Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) group and are already well-known to you.  They could easily have been avoided and we have been amazed by the lack of democratic process.  How would you help to ensure that such dire consequences are avoided in future if you win your seat and if a Labour/Conservative council is voted in next year?

Sarah Owen answered as follows:

1.  Yes. I am totally against selling off parts of the Country Park Nature Reserve. 

2.  Yes. I believe that the residents of Hastings should be fully consulted on any changes that might adversely affect the Country Park. 

3.  Yes. I will also fight for tougher sanctions for breaches of planning permission.

4.  Yes. Along with the previous measures outlined in my letter, I will fight for wider reform of planning legislation to increase public involvement, community influence and accountability here in Hastings and nationally.

In addition she wrote: Along with the previous measures outlined in my letter, I will fight for wider reform of planning legislation to increase public involvement, community influence and accountability here in Hastings and nationally.

[I will] seek to reverse recent changes by government to planning law. 

There is an imbalance between developers and local communities.  The recent changes in planning legislation mean that developments like this can be taken from the hands of local communities and councils entirely.  These changes give Eric Pickles the Secretary of State [for Communities and Local Government] the power to decide if a council is too slow or delaying passing planning applications – allowing developers to bypass local councils altogether and be fast tracked to the National Planning Inspectorate.  The loosening of planning legislation is wrong and I would fight to reverse these changes and also argue the need for section 106 agreements [of the Town and Country Planning Act] to be reinstated.  As well as building developments, this government have also pushed through legislation to allow for fracking to start in the South Downs, AONBs [Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty] and parks – I would vote to stop this.

Amber Rudd replied less specifically:

My support for the preservation of Hastings Country Park is unequivocal.  I can see the park from my home and I walk there most mornings: the Park is one of our great communal inheritances in Hastings.

As such, regardless of the political makeup of the Council, we as a community must be included in any planning decisions which may affect it. The Government has worked hard, through initiatives like the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), to strongly encourage residents’ involvement in the planning process. With the use of Local Plans, communities can set the framework in which decisions on particular planning applications are taken. It is vital that local residents have an input into these decisions and help to create a Local Plan which will reflect our desire to protect the Glen and the Park.

It is also crucial that there is full and open consultation about the way that this has been handled by the planning department at Hastings Borough Council. There have been far too many failures. As the Government set out its Biodiversity strategy and the NPPF, community engagement is the key to both planning and biodiversity policy. We must ensure that this is enacted locally. I will continue to press for a public inquiry into the planning department at the Council.

Readers may be confused over each candidate’s references to wider changes to planning law. Sarah Owen says she will seek to reverse the relaxation of planning laws, whereas Amber Rudd says she is in favour of a “Local Plan”. To deal with Amber Rudd’s statement first, the Localism Act may seem as if it has the potential to enfranchise local communities to protect public assets like the CP, but one has to read between the lines because the Government still holds the reins of power, and the Tories have a pro-development slant. This is the Government that stated it would be “the greenest ever”, yet on the back of its austerity policies the Lake District National Park Authority has been starved of cash to the point where it has had no choice but to sell parts off. This change is truly historic as these parks are not theirs to sell off.

This mirrors our situation in Hastings. The Tory Government has cut poor councils’ (like Hastings) budget so far that they have been obliged to become more ‘pro development.’ Of course the present Labour council cannot be excused; they own the HCPNR on our behalf, yet their slack planning practices almost certainly contributed to the landslip in Ecclesbourne Glen and without the SEG campaign they would have allowed the Bunker to remain on the East Hill.

One of the most dangerous developments affecting the Country Park was the introduction in 1995 of Permitted Development Rights (PDRs), amended in 2013, which give owners an automatic right to change the use of buildings from office into residential without the need for a planning application. This amendment means that HBC, as the park’s owners, can change the use of buildings. They changed Little Warren Cottage from being a council-owned office to a private dwelling, before selling it on the open market in order to to fund the new visitors’ centre at Fairlight. The old visitors’ centre was perfectly adequate, but the new one will be privately run, and will double as a commercial functions suite and theatrical/wedding venue with an alcohol license.  HBC also ignored the fact that PDRs are supposed to be subject to limitations in ‘designated areas’ like Conservation Areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and so on.

Although the coming election is for our local MP and government, and next year we will have a chance to vote in a new council, it is still crucial for the Country Park because our future MP will have the power to influence central government policy. At least Sarah Owen says she will seek to change this aspect of the law if elected.  It is hard to see how Amber Rudd will do anything other than toe her party’s line, which is unashamedly pro development, but dressed up in terms like ‘regeneration.’

We are seeing the privatisation of public space. Our beautiful nature reserve is under threat as never before, and a wider group is now being set up to try and protect the whole park as the activities of the SEG group are limited to Ecclesbourne Glen. More information about this will be provided soon in another Hottie article.

 

Posted 09:34 Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 In: Campaigns

13 Comments


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  1. Michael Madden

    Thank you for your input Cllr Edwards. It is good to know that my article wasn’t so inaccurate after all.

    Best wishes,

    Michael Madden

    Comment by Michael Madden — Friday, May 1, 2015 @ 09:55

  2. Cllr Michael Edwards

    I come rather late to this absorbing discussion and I find myself mentioned. To my recollection of the discussion at Planning Committee I did indeed question the proposed opening times of the Visitor Centre. It seemed to me to make little sense to have fixed opening times throughout the year when winter days are much shorter and it’s dark well before 5pm. More sensible to adjust the hours with the season and the hours of daylight when presumably more visitors will be there to enjoy both the park and the Centre.

    In listening to the discussion I had the clear impression that the Visitor Centre would be run on commercial lines and responsive to the possible demands of visitors. This could include the offering of food and alcoholic beverages . What could be more pleasurable than a cool glass of wine sitting on the upper balcony on a sunny summer evening? I’m all for it.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015 @ 20:59

  3. Bernard McGinley

    Cllr Street’s diversionary tactics are both bewildering and ineffective. Instead of dealing with matters such as longer hours and drinks licensing at the new Visitor Centre, or its bloated size, he goes back to the Design & Access Statement. As chapter-and-verse references to the DAS were given, it is not an issue what Cave Co-operative chose to include in their Statement, published by Cave Co-op and republished by HBC, and including the endorsement of weddings and parties at the new Visitor Centre.

    On page 9 of the Design & Access Statement it says:
    The site has been chosen to allow for possible future expansion . . .

    On page 19 of the Design & Access Statement there is this:
    The Borough Council will continue to encourage the maximum use of these facilities and will be generally supportive of planning applications for additional community facilities.

    The page 20 comment I quoted – on the use of the Visitor Centre out of office hours – is also from the main DAS report and goes unremarked on by Cllr Street (as does the missing HBC press release on consultation).

    There is however a sense in which this is not an ordinary planning application: the developers for planning application HS/FA/14/01033 are Cave’s clients, Hastings Borough Council.

    Further details on this development project are given in the HBC Cabinet paper of 6 October 2014 (Agenda Item 8): http://hastings.moderngov.co.uk/documents/g1270/Public%20reports%20pack%2006th-Oct-2014%2018.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=10

    Paragraph 16 (page 45) burbles about ‘what the community felt about a new centre and its location’ without mentioning Borough-wide opposition, or Fairlight or its residents or their exclusion: people who live a spit from the site of the proposed multi-functional Interpretive Centre | function suite.

    Paragraph 19 of the same Cabinet paper suggests that the sites not chosen had inferior views, without considering that the chosen site causes inferior views, wilfully damages the Country Park, and discredits the Council (again).

    Cllr Street as Planning Committee Chairman states that the views in the DAS report are from the community. So too are the many against this vandalism of the Country Park not recorded in the DAS, including this one.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Tuesday, Apr 14, 2015 @ 11:20

  4. Richard Street

    The comments Mr McGinley refers to in the Design and Access Statement are actually from Appendix 4 which is the Community Consultation Report which summarises the results from the various community consultation and engagement events and workshops that were held in 2014, prior to the planning application being submitted. This proposal had seen more public engagement events than any previous application we can remember. The community consultation was organised and undertaken by our architects, Cave Cooperative.

    Members of the community were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and excited about the prospect of a new centre and told the architects of some of the activities they would like to see at the centre. The architects submitted the results of the community engagement events with the planning application. The architects did not have to submit this with the application but felt the public and the planning committee would like to see the results of their consultation.

    It is therefore important to recognise that the views in the report are those received from members of the community. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council. To conjoin the two shows a lack of respect for the members of the community who participated so enthusiastically to the consultation events, to have their views published.

    Comment by Richard Street — Monday, Apr 13, 2015 @ 09:32

  5. Bernard McGinley

    This will not do. What the Planning Committee Report of 4 March says about the Visitor Centre (on page 4) is that the hours of opening will be limited to 9am-5pm until such time as more specific plans have been identified.

    Whether HBC’s style is one of softly-softly or a Trojan Horse methodology or a boiling-a-frog approach, it amounts to the same thing: get the building up, then adjust the usage permission, then adjust it again. The prospect of an ‘all singing, all-dancing’ function suite venue cannot be excluded.

    The Design and Access Statement’s advocacy of weddings and parties was neither criticised nor ruled out in discussion at the Committee meeting. Instead, the Committee Report used bureaucratic evasion to disguise what was being worked towards. The bland words facility and facilities for instance recur repeatedly, while words such as café and restaurant are studiously avoided.

    The Visitor Centre is described as a ‘multi functional building’ on page 2 of the Committee Report. What functions are these?

    Similarly the HBC ‘Fact Sheet’ is both tendentious and laughable, omitting as it does any justification for the new Centre’s obstructive site, or the vast increase in size. Even the case reference is lacking. The many objections can be found under HS/FA/14/01033:
    http://publicaccess.hastings.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=_HSTBC_DCAPR_102179

    The legitimate concerns of Country Park enthusiasts and Fairlight residents were treated abominably in resolving this application. Confidence in HBC continues to recede.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Friday, Apr 10, 2015 @ 16:28

  6. Richard Street

    Mr McGinley is ignoring the permission that was actually granted which is as I described above. Planning officers considered the objections from local residents and placed conditions on the permission to prevent the disruption they feared. The planning committee agreed with these restrictions. Cllr Edwards may want to sip a glass of wine on the roof but he won’t be able to. For it to operate as a restaurant it would need a full size kitchen and food preparation area. The permitted development does not have that. Personally I prefer to call it a Visitor Centre because that’s easier to say and spell. The Council has now published a fact sheet about the new Visitor Centre which you can read here http://www.hastings.gov.uk/community_living/places_spaces_facilities/allotments_parks_beaches/countryside/hcp_nature/visitorcentre/ or on my Twitter and Facebook pages in full colour.

    Comment by Richard Street — Friday, Apr 10, 2015 @ 08:39

  7. Michael Madden

    Just a quick response to David Woolf’s comment.

    Thankyou for your comment David, but you have misread my article. I was trying to give an impression of the overall political situation and made no attempt at all to demolish Amber Rudd’s answer. I was being critical of her Party’s policy and was commenting on her letter only in so far as it related to that. I was also highly critical of the local council.

    The point of the article was this: our local decision on who to vote for nationally is bigger than the local situation as you have presented it here. Surely we have to reflect on the fact that the Party she represents has starved the Lake District National Park Authority of funds to the extent that it has started selling parts off.

    The point of doing that was to try and show that the issues are bigger than Jeremy, Sarah or Amber. I could certainly never vote for a local Labour Council again, but that is an issue for next year’s council election, not this year’s national election and election for our local MP.

    Best wishes,

    Michael

    Comment by Michael Madden — Thursday, Apr 9, 2015 @ 18:10

  8. Bernard McGinley

    Cllr Street is being disingenuous. Surely as Chairman of Hastings Borough Council’s Planning Committee he read the Revised Design & Access Statement (February 2015, Revision B)? The Planning reference is HS/FA/14/01033.
    On page 58 there is this:
    The Centre’s cafe and activities
    It is clear that the cafe needs to be an accessible multi-use space for new and current park users, walkers, staff and volunteers (including for training purposes). The future purpose of the space captured the imagination with everyone envisioning an open air theatre, weddings and parties plus language students and geo-coaching activities.

    ‘Weddings and parties’ suggests a few nice drinks to me, and food. Cllr Edwards at the Planning Committee meeting on 4 March endorsed the prospect of a leisurely drink on the terrasse in the evening sun. The acting Chairman explained that this was not under consideration yet. (It’s such a pity that the Council managed not to record the proceedings.)

    On page 20 of the same document there is this:
    The increased use of the centre during out of office hours will increase footfall through the park during the evening

    What are these ‘Refreshments’ that will be dispensed, including after 5 p.m.? Cllr Street is being coy about the distinction between a restaurant and a café.

    The new building was explicitly promoted as an ‘Interpretive Centre’, not just a Visitor Centre. Why is the old one to be replaced with one about 10 times its size?

    On page 62 of the Revised DAS, reference is made to an HBC press release on the extensiveness of the consultation in September 2014. It is not on the Council’s archive. Why not?

    Where have these myths come from? A good question. So too is asking why the reputation of HBC’s planning department is so low.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Thursday, Apr 9, 2015 @ 11:38

  9. David Woolf

    I feel that Michael rather unfairly attempted to demolish a robust, if not simplistic, set of answers from Amber Rudd. It is notable that, in the whole Ecclesbourne Glen saga that no individual has been officially sanctioned in any way, despite the clear disregard for laws and regulations and the lack of any inspection or control to prevent the outrages. It is my belief that the leadership of the council lacks either the will or the guts to take action.

    I suspect that our glorious Leader has all digits crossed for an Owen win in May, where-after he can hope for an easy ride until he decides to retire. You can decide for yourselves how you weigh up the prospects of another 5 years of the local political mafia’s unopposed control of H&StL against the likely scenarios of minority or coalition national governments. I will be voting to keep Amber so she can continue to pour salt on Jeremy’s tail.

    Comment by David Woolf — Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 @ 17:36

  10. Jim

    Every green space in Hastings is under threat so long as local politicians are committed to building unneeded roads and empty business parks.

    Comment by Jim — Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 @ 17:19

  11. Michael Madden

    Dear Cllrs Street and Hodges, Thank you very much for your comments. I like to be corrected when I am wrong and apologise if some of the information (which I believed was fact) about the visitor’s centre is in fact incorrect. It is warming to hear that it will not have a license, and will only open from 9am to 5pm. I am also glad that you have not (as councillors) chosen to criticise the rest of the article.

    Considering your own involvement in the Visitor’s Centre, John, and what you have said in your comments, perhaps it might be a be a nice idea to display some of the beautiful fossils you mention as an educational aid inside the new centre?

    Best wishes, and I hope you’re keeping well,

    Regards Michael

    Comment by Michael Madden — Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 @ 14:53

  12. John Hodges

    I fully agree with every point that Richard Street has made. Unfortunately the Hastings Observer denied him the courtesy of printing his rebuttal of the garbage that they continue to print regarding the purpose of the new visitor centre.Additional to Richard’s comments I would add that another significant reason for the new centre, please ask the volunteers about the adequacy of the existing one, is to encourage visits by school children. Currently the opportunity to visit this wonderful park is not maximised by schools owing to the fact that there are no toilet or washing facilities in the the old centre. These children, not my generation, represent the future and the sustainability of this green jewel in the crown of Hastings, it is vital that they are given every opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that abounds in this park, and will hopefully stay with them into adulthood. The knowledge and understanding that has developed in this park has far outgrown the old centre as a facility for its interpretation, especially the unseen part of the park. This is the cliff face where paleo botanical specimens of world class standing are found, and can justly merit its comparison to what is found on the Jurassic Coast.

    Comment by John Hodges — Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 @ 13:34

  13. Richard Street

    The new Visitor Centre will not “double as a commercial functions suite and theatrical/wedding venue with an alcohol license”. There is no plan to apply for an alcohol licence. Planning conditions mean it can only be open from 9 to 5 and the outside space can only be used as a classroom. There will be no kitchen large enough to provide restaurant facilities. It will be a Visitor Centre to provide information to visitors. The existing portakabin has long outlasted its usefulness. I don’t know where these myths have come from but please don’t perpetuate them.

    Comment by Richard Street — Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015 @ 10:21

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