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Bunker planning application makes independent remeasurement a live issue

With its latest planning application, Rocklands Caravan Park is seeking to go round (or supersede) the Planning Inspector’s decision regarding the notorious ‘Bunker’ beside Hastings Country Park. Will Hastings Borough Council (HBC) require remeasurement of the misshapen building before deciding on the application, to know what it’s dealing with? What about the other works on site? Bernard McGinley tries to find out, again.

Another planning application retrospective has been made by Rocklands Caravan Park:   HS/FA/20/00470. Following the HOT report ‘Oversize Bunker cries out for HBC action’ in June, there was no significant action, such as an enforcement notice. (A sketchy correspondence is not enforcement.)     

The balcony extension discussed and shown in that article has been quietly removed, as furtively as it was built. Other works and discrepancies remain, deviations at odds with the planning inspector’s careful decision in 2016, after other maverick developments by Rocklands. These anomalies include the depth of the balcony, the lack of some glass panels, and their appearance, inconsistency in supports (stanchions), the overlarge canopy and the rough-looking flashings, not in accord with the permission. 

The planning department however puts a telescope to its blind eye and sees no problems. The discrepancies and unauthorised developments under consideration by the Council for possible enforcement (case ENF/20/00076, unpublished) get ignored. The application is treated in isolation, though the current retrospective proposal and the unauthorised developments share the same ‘redline site area’.   

Those invisible problems include the works at the base of the Bunker: unresolved and/or unauthorised matters such as the retaining wall, a recessed steps area, a restored bank, and excavations in a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  

These building works are within the application site (‘redline area’) and yet Council officers insist that those works are not relevant to the application. Objectors point out that as it is a retrospective application, all deviations from the approved plans should be taken into consideration, to regularise what has been built. In effect the inspector’s decision is being ignored as is the idea that the applicant could be asked to make a single full planning application to cover the development that’s there or wanted.

Decision, 2016

Following the outcry in 2014-15, the Council decided unanimously to enforce demolition of the Bunker. The matter went to appeal. The inspector’s decision of 2016 was a compromise, and that should have been the end of the matter.  Appeal Decision APP/B1415/C/15/ 3029007 was flouted in the subsequent building works, including the balcony extension that was explicitly what he ruled was unacceptable. Now Rocklands seeks by procedural manipulation what it could not achieve by stealth and procedurally HBC lets them. (How many more retrospective applications can now be expected?)

‘Negligible’

Breaches and discrepancies undoubtedly exist here, though sometimes their detail is as yet unclear. The Heritage Statement by the applicants’ agent describes the new proposals as ‘negligible’, but does not explain why Rocklands would not comply with the inspector’s carefully weighed decision. The dismantling of the illegal balcony extension is also unmentioned. (It is in such manœuvres, over years, that Rocklands have forfeited the benefit of any doubt. Meanwhile, options such as Section 123 of the Localism Act 2011 and Section 70C of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are tools that HBC choose to disregard.)

Given the history of Rocklands planning abuses, there is a strong case for remeasurement, before the application is decided on, which the Council can require.  Previous Bunker cases provoked hundreds of objections: HS/FA/14/00406 got 413.  HS/FA/14/01036 got 464.    

The campaign group SEG (Save Ecclesbourne Glen) are asking councillors to vote  for remeasurement in the case, at the next Full Council meeting in October. The SEG Facebook site discusses the case and the area. 

Remeasurement, 2014

A consequence of the previous uproar was an independent remeasurement by Standen Associates, which established that the building was built over two feet too high, was too large, and built in the wrong position. The HBC Cabinet meeting of December 2014 (Agenda item 5) acknowledged the value of the independent remeasurement. The late Cllr Jeremy Birch, then Leader of the Council, said:

The Council was wrong in terms of what it believed, what it took on trust really — was the height and orientation of the building, and the Council was not open enough when people challenged that conclusion, when people challenged the Council to say ‘No it’s higher, No it’s not as it says on the plans’. The Council was not ready enough to listen at the start and to take on board those considerations and to recheck. 

In March 2015 the Planning Committee (minute item 76.1) voted unanimously to demolish the Bunker with many resounding declarations from Members. The late Cllr John Hodges said:

This application seeks to place a visual abomination in the midst of an unspoilt panorama. A local authority has a statutory duty to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB].

Would you expect to encounter such a monstrosity on the slopes of the Great Gable or Scafell Pike as you gazed in awe across the Lake District? Of course you wouldn’t so what the hell is it doing sitting at the top of Ecclesbourne Glen? Our countryside and heritage demands the protection of lions that will roar in its defence, not donkeys that bray like some ineffective instrument of appeasement. 


Virtues and values

For people to have a real sense that the planning system is working, they need to know that the rules will be respected. The dubious history of the Bunker does not show this. 

The Council’s Planning Protocol (Part 5, Appendix 1, of its Constitution) announces its values: 

This Protocol seeks to ensure openness, transparency, fairness and consistency in planning decisions and to ensure that the planning process operates properly, legally and effectively. Planning decisions should be made openly, impartially, with sound judgement and for justifiable reasons. The process should leave no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been partial, biased or not well-founded in any way.  [Para 2]

For many, if the Council do not commission remeasurement, then those grounds would exist. Approval of the latest application without knowledge of the state of the Bunker (its dimensions and the additional, unapproved building works) would not be a well-founded decision. Cllr Hodges’ term ‘appeasement’ is as good as any.

A vote is likely to be proposed for Full Council on 21 October, with Members voting on whether the Council should require independent remeasurement of the Bunker site.

Going holistic

The Rocklands case is rife with material considerations, and material changes (where a full planning application would be expected). The Council’s planners persists in a ‘bite-sized chunks’ approach, refusing to consider what has been done as a whole, and failing to reach a judgment as a matter of fact and degree upon that whole.  Instead there is an artificial process of ignoring part of what has been done.

The view is growing that in situations such as these HBC is not acting well, or in the public interest, and councillors are not (to date) effectively representing their electorates. Despite repeated enquiries by HOT, the Council has been unable or unwilling to explain its treatment of the application, a perverse and selective response to a selective submission.

Comments on the application (on planning grounds) can be made to dccomments@hastings.gov.uk.

Comments on Bunker remeasurement can be made to ward councilllors.

The next Full Council meeting is on Wednesday 21 October at 6pm. (Unusually the October Planning Committee meeting is the next evening, a Thursday.)

Posted 11:35 Sunday, Sep 6, 2020 In: Home Ground

4 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Keith Piggott

    My attention again is drawn to the Rocklands affair via Hastings Online Times. Whilst I concur with ‘Bolshie’ of Harrogate, unlike him, I never have been to this disputed Bunker; and I never have persued any interest in any disputes between any parties having an interest. Yet I am cogniscant with the well motivated arguments by Bunker opponents including ‘Bolshie’.

    I know Bernard McGinley too, socially as a friend, and I have implicit trust in his meticulous research and methodology. His are persuasive statements of fact, backed by well considered opinions always put eruditely.

    Therefore, candidly, I warn HBC of my, and I perceive the wider public’s, diminishing trust in this borough’s planning department, also in borough councillors representing the public in defending fragile protected areas.

    In our bounday-annexation battles we were faced by a convicted violent-criminal developer; yet who mysteriously carried the borough planning and enforcement departments and borough solicitors; also one Godfrey Daniel (who declared in Council of developers adjacent tennis court within buffer zone of Ancient Woodland, “a brown-field site if ever I saw one”); also Sussex Police enforcing developer annexations, one of whom he’d beaten to the ground. My reports then of doostep boasts of “One hundred thousand pounds bung to planners” went by without investigation. More recently, reminding Mrs Evans of those boasts only got “noted”.

    I would not do a councillor’s job for anything, I always refused invitations, (Anglesey 1970, also Rother 1983), to become involved in a political role.

    Yet we the public rely on our councillors, whom we must trust, to reign-in their officers’ excesses against the public interest, indeed against planning also environmental laws.

    This cross-party issue is of huge public import. I urge all councillors not to let-down constituents across this borough. One righteous voice in Council still can carry this just argument. KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Wednesday, Sep 9, 2020 @ 23:45

  2. Bolshie

    What a brilliant insight into the current state of affairs with this blot on the landscape. How much council/public money has been wasted on this “Bunker” fiasco? It has to be seven figures by now.
    Historically we need to go back to the Ray Crawford days when he was the Captain of the Planning Department ship. When this absurdity of a building came up for application he refused it.
    However, following that he gave personal advice to the Rocklands owners on how better they could improve the application t get it through. His notes on this were discovered in the planning file. The local press published a letter of mine raising concern how this council officer was allowed to offer personal input to the next application. How do you put it – “friends in high places.”
    And sure enough some three months later a new application was filed right on Christmas time now in the hands of just someone in the planning department. Not only was the timeline perfect with the application going unnoticed but the planning officer concerned gave it the “Green Light.”
    I ask this question…..wonder why HBC have never been that assertive of measuring it or dealing with any infraction connected with this eye sore?

    Comment by Bolshie — Sunday, Sep 6, 2020 @ 21:28

  3. Bobby Hall

    Bernard McGinley is a ‘lion that roars’.

    Comment by Bobby Hall — Sunday, Sep 6, 2020 @ 14:52

  4. Keith Forbes

    The ongoing lack of action by Hastings Borough Council over this issue can leave one with only one conclusion: the planning department is not fit for purpose.
    This is not the only case in Hastings where planning regulations have been broken, complaints made and retrospective permission granted, with no remedial action. How can this be? If the building works were in breach of planning permission, the works must be removed and the land/building reinstated as prior to the works. How could there be any other outcome?
    The present situation allows developers, and private home-owners, to run roughshod over planning rules. The rules therefore, and those selected to oversee them, need to be changed.

    Comment by Keith Forbes — Sunday, Sep 6, 2020 @ 11:46

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