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Some of the holly sticks planted in 2004 to screen the Bunker from public view (photo: Chris Hurrell).

Some of the holly sticks planted in 2004 to screen the Bunker from public view (photo: Chris Hurrell).

Bunker screening fails to hide the eyesore

Following their successful Bunker appeal, Rocklands have now submitted a planting scheme to screen the building from public view, a condition imposed by the planning inspector who heard the appeal. Approval or rejection of the proposed scheme will be decided by HBC planning officers who however have declined to take any comments from the public. Chris Hurrell of Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) assesses the scheme.

Rocklands’ proposed scheme fails to screen the building from any part of the Country Park at all. Should it be approved by Hastings Borough Council, then the very last chance to protect the visual amenity of our Country Park will be lost forever.

SEG – who have been consultees on all previous applications and were represented at the appeal – have been refused the status of consultee for this application. The application will be decided by planning officers under delegated authority without consultation with the public.

The planning inspector says in his decision report:

Moreover, any permission arising from these appeals could require quite extensive planting, including semi-mature specimens if thought necessary by the Council, and much of this might fall within areas of woodland protected by the TPO [tree protection order]. With an appropriate specification, planting should be successful…

The proposed scheme does nothing to replace the substantial loss of screening resulting from the construction of the Bunker and only specifies the planting of three oak saplings. No extensive replanting is proposed and no semi-mature specimens are specified. The proposed scheme does not include an appropriate specification.

The three oak trees afford no screening whatsoever from any part of the Country Park. They will however screen the new building from the caravan park so that its residents do not have a view of the caravans. Visitors to the Country Park will have views of both the building and the caravans.

No plantings are proposed to screen the line of sigh between the Bunker and St George's churchyard to the west (image: Google Earth).

No plantings are proposed to screen the line of sight between the Bunker and St George’s churchyard to the west (image: Google Earth).

It is hoped that HBC will demonstrate its determination to protect our Country Park (as evidenced by the two decisions of the planning committee to refuse applications) by refusing the proposed scheme in favour of one that provides effective screening and meets the planning inspector’s requirements.

The history of the development shows that all parties involved understood that the visual impact of the building should be mitigated by increased screening.

Even Rocklands own heritage statements, which were instrumental in getting planning permission for the Bunker, acknowledge the harm caused to visual amenity and propose increased screening.

There would be no need for increased screening if most of the previously existing screening had not been removed. However, it is not Rocklands’ intention to restore the original amount of screening – instead the number of plants and the areas to be covered in the proposed scheme are considerably reduced in comparison with previous schemes.

The proposed scheme claims that replanting cannot be done in the area of a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) – a late Iron Age promontory fort – which overlaps with the caravan park. The Bunker sits on the northern ramparts of the fort. SEG believe that Rocklands are using SAM status as an excuse to avoid any replanting. In fact SAM status does not prevent replanting – Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) might be required, but given the importance of screening and the fact that English Heritage support increased screening, it is very likely it would be granted.

No plantings are proposed to screen the line of sight between the Bunker and Ecclesbourne Glen to the east (image: Google Earth).

No plantings are proposed to screen the line of sight between the Bunker and Ecclesbourne Glen to the east (image: Google Earth).

Interestingly no replanting is proposed in areas outside of the SAM either.

The proposed scheme claims that 70 small holly sticks were planted in 2014 to the south of the building. An on-site visit by SEG in April 2016 confirms that there are far fewer than 70 surviving holly sticks. Professional advice to SEG from Julia Fogg (member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, the Landscape Institute and the  Society of Garden Designers) states the holly sticks will never provide adequate screening. The borough arboriculturist was also of the same opinion at the planning committee meeting of 18 June 2014.

In summary, the proposed scheme is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1. It does not meet the intentions of the planning inspector when determining the appeal.
2. It does not meet the conditions imposed by the planning inspector when granting the permission.
3. It offers no screening whatsoever from any part of the Country Park.
4. It has inaccurate plans and lacks sufficient detail.
5. The claim that the 70 holly sticks which Rocklands says it planted will provide adequate screening is incorrect.
6. It proposes even less screening than was proposed by Rocklands in previous schemes.
7. It does not increase screening of the building as expected by all parties in previous applications.

This is the last act in the Rocklands debacle. The fate of the Country Park rests in the hands of HBC. It remains to be seen whether they  will finally step up and take their responsibility to protect the Country Park seriously. Based on past performance I have little confidence in the outcome.

The words of Councillor John Hodges concerning the Country Park and the Rocklands application in May 2014 are so appropriate to the current application:

This is the green jewel in the crown of this town’s tourism offer, our duty as councillors is to protect it………if we let this recommendation go ahead without what I, and many others have asked for as a minimum protection of their visual enjoyment, then we have failed miserably in discharging our duty towards those who look to us for their support.

If you are concerned about this then please write NOW to your councillor. Once the proposed scheme is approved then the visual amenity of the East Hill and Ecclesbourne Glen will be lost forever.

 

The application can be seen here.

 

Posted 11:03 Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016 In: Home Ground

4 Comments


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  1. DAR

    I thoroughly concur with barney’s closing comment.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Sep 1, 2016 @ 15:27

  2. barney

    There is a whole heap of ‘stuff’ which has conveniently disappeared from the council’s planning website…including very relevant information concerning the recently devastated site up at 123 West Hill Road.
    One has to wonder if this is a further attempt to close the doors on democracy in this town. The planning ‘permission’ for this site is three decades old and the public have every right to demand a consultation on this proposal which certainly will not conform to current building standards or indeed the ratified Policies in the Local Plan relating to this site. Matters not says the council….makes no difference. No further consultations and no new application required. Pity all the wildlife which has been illegally erased from this site without any mitigation procedures in place.

    The Cabinet meeting coming up next week will illustrate further attempts to silence complainers. Talking about £50 a pop for any planning questions! (They are joking – surely they mean £50 for pre application assistance for the developers?).

    Basically it appears the planners are complaining about the volume of complaints they receive and reckon it is slowing down their productivity!
    Maybe if they answered questions without their smoke and mirrors answers, they wouldn’t receive so many questions from residents.

    And they wonder why the Ecclesbourne Glen group are so furious about this latest nail in the coffin for our lovely Country Park? The Inspector would also be pretty miffed to learn that his recommendations have been ignored. Time for this planning department to be called to account. Only way to get some order into this section of our Council.

    Comment by barney — Wednesday, Aug 31, 2016 @ 20:54

  3. Andy Ammo

    The ‘Bahcheli Report’ that was done in 2014 on the many and diverse planning mistakes over Rocklands Caravan Park (and HBC improvements to make) is no longer available online. What does that say about the Council’s much proclaimed commitment to openness and transparency?

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Wednesday, Aug 31, 2016 @ 15:52

  4. barney

    What a great pity the one councillor with the courage to stand up and be counted is no longer with us – RIP John Hodges – you did your best for our Country Park.

    This latest shambles is indeed shameful – another step further to deny residents any voice in what happens to our unique Country Park. Why are we prevented from expressing our thoughts on this inadequate proposal?

    WHY is the council seemingly happy to allow these caravan proprietors to do whatsoever they wish on this special AONB?

    WHY are these people able to ignore the recommendations of the Planning Inspector at Appeal?

    This planning department in Hastings is a disgrace.

    Comment by barney — Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016 @ 12:22

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