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Council ignores planning abuses (including its own)

The Rocklands mess does not get better. The caravan park’s current retrospective planning application for the Bunker uglifying the Country Park doesn’t mention the Bunker balcony extension put in after the Planning Inspector’s decision to forbid it. Hastings Borough Council (HBC) doesn’t mention it either, and has shelved its enforcement enquiry pending hearing of the application. Years after this controversy started, it remains all not good enough. Report and photos by Bernard McGinley.

The Bunker enforcement enquiry (ENF/20/00076) opened by HBC in April has been suspended until after the application (HS/FA/20/00470) made in July has been decided – possibly later this month. Resolving the enforcement matter before the application would have been the sensible order. Instead, information that could have invalidated or changed the case is being wilfully ignored. This looks remarkably shifty. The full statement provided to the writer is:

This letter is just to provide you with a small update on the above case. Enforcement action on ENF/20/00076 has been suspended due to the ongoing planning application HS/FA/20/00470.  ENF/20/00076 will be reviewed once a planning decision has been made.

By then of course it will be too late: a perfect failure of enforcement. The logic is literally Alice in Wonderland, what the Queen of Hearts irrationally insisted on: ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards’.

In a parallel move of minimisation, the Council has looked at the works at the base of the Bunker (the retaining wall, a recessed steps area, a restored bank, and excavations in a Scheduled Ancient Monument), and decided that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it, and no planning permission was needed. ‘No further action required’ is the repeated slogan of a letter of 14 September to Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG). The‘findings table’ there is a grid that is risingly disingenuous. Here’s an extract: 

Description Has PP? Needs Planning Permission? Council Position
11  Works partly on HBC Owned land n/a This query does not relate to development. The development at Rocklands has not included land owned by HBC No further action required
12  Balcony and fenestration not in accord with approved plans No Application (HS/FA/20/00470) submitted and under consideration. Note alterations to fenestration are a minor breach and not considered to merit formal enforcement action No further action required at present. Review at point of planning committee decision
13  Query regarding the overall dimensions of the holiday let [i.e. Bunker] as built Yes There is nothing on visual inspection of the building that would suggest it has not been built in accordance with the approved plans. No evidence has been submitted to the council that could reasonably demonstrate that this is the case No further action required
14  Query regarding dimension of the balcony on the eastern elevation of the building Yes There is nothing on visual inspection of the balcony that would suggest it has not been built in accordance with the approved plans. No evidence has been submitted to the council that could reasonably demonstrate that this is the case. No further action required

11: This ignores Rocklands planning application HS/CD/16/00655 and its committee report which said

On the southern boundary, the holly planting is within the fenced area of Rocklands Caravan Park but is outside the legal boundary and officially on land within Hastings Borough Council ownership. 

A condition was made about HBC land in the approval. There is evidence that the south-east corner of the Bunker is on HBC-owned (publicly owned) land. As for the Bunker’s retaining wall and patio, they remain disputed. See the lengthy objections in ‘470’ and HS/FA/19/00172, last year’s approved application for permission to construct a paving slab patio around the Bunker.

12: A ‘minor breach’ is not minor in a context of repeated disregard of planning requirements amounting to a lack of good faith: another reason for remeasurement rather than accepting ‘assurances’. Review is the planning officers’ job, to advise the Planning Committee in advance.

13: The evidence has been provided, by SEG and others, and written about:  see the documents and comments in case file ‘470’. That the inspection was ‘visual’ and not one of measurement is senseless, and prolongs the dispute.  (See also below.)

14: Again it is a false assertion that ‘No evidence has been submitted to the council that could reasonably demonstrate that this is the case’. SEG evidence was the only  reason that the breaches were reported and that a planning officer (who has since left HBC) wrote to Rocklands. That is how the retrospective application came about.

There is strong evidence that the Bunker that has planning permission is not the one that has been built. In June and September this year, HOT reported in detail on Bunker abuses. As usual, HBC chooses not to see them but they can’t unknow what they know, or easily choose not to be mindful of the state of the Bunker.  

Big chance missed

On 9 September the Planning Services Manager visited the Bunker to inspect the balcony. She inspected it ‘visually’ which appears to mean she didn’t measure it, despite all the planning department had been told. That seems unprofessional, a sidestepping of a chance to confirm or refute the assertion that the balcony is in breach of what the Planning Inspector decided was acceptable. 

HBC say that they revisited the Bunker on 24 September and that the L-shaped balcony is two metres deep (its legal maximum). How it was measured was still not explained. Apparently there are no notes or pictures, which again seems bad practice. Here was a perfect opportunity to show those expressing concerns how baseless their assertions were. Instead the Council chose not to act.

The 2016 Appeal Decision (para 37) required a ‘loss of visual bulk through smaller balconies’. The Bunker balcony has been carefully assessed in photos calibrated with the approved plans and its depth estimated to be well over the two metres allowed.  

The Bunker in 2015.

Remeasurement

HBC have form when it comes to the Bunker and abuse. In 2016 the Rocklands scandal was reported like this.

The deference to technocratic planners (the ticketyboo tendency) is still there, with less reason. Because of the Council’s dismal administration, the case made by SEG for an independent remeasurement of the balcony is stronger than ever.  

There are other concerns. About the steps for instance, the Council asked Rocklands either to submit an application or provide evidence to confirm the steps have been in situ for over four years. The owners asserted that they had. No evidence was provided however, and the Council was content to take their word for it. Given the long history of planning abuse at Rocklands (the 2020 illegal balcony for instance sneakily added, sneakily removed, sneakily ignored in the retrospective application), this is very strange.

The Council’s Procedural Review of October 2014 (the ‘Bahcheli Report’) in para 6.3.2 (etc.) confirmed that the Bunker was wrongly built in various ways.  Administrative failings are another rich chapter, as Cllr Birch when Leader acknowledged.

Yet the practice of giving Rocklands the benefit of any doubt continues, undeserved.  Even the assertion that there have been no excavations since 2012 disregards other evidence of excavations there in 2013/14 (to build the Bunker), and later.

The quality and standards of the finished building are low, as the photos show. The new application is to lessen the number of support stanchions, and make amendments to the appearance of the building including the windows. It includes the addition of a downpipe to the Bunker exterior, though that is unmentioned in the application form.  What was wrong with their own original design, or the Inspector’s Appeal Decision, is not discussed.

The role of Historic England in protecting the Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) was marginalised. Objectors have been told to take their concerns to Historic England though it is the Council’s role to liaise. The Inspector in his Decision (para 24) was clear that ‘the additional obtrusiveness of the building as constructed harms the setting of the S[cheduled] M[onument], in conflict with the development policies noted’.

In August 2015 the government changed national planning policy to make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration. In a context of repeated breach/non-compliance, HBC indulgence is strange. The proposal to suspend the enforcement enquiry and to treat the application in isolation from other factors relating to the same building invites the perception that something is wrong. 

A sound decision on the retrospective application should rest on good information, which is available but not yet collected. Knowing the facts is not predetermination.

View to the sea.

Council vote on 21 October

There is to be a Full Council on Wednesday 21 October at 6pm (probably online) when a vote on the Bunker remeasurement issue is expected to be held. Will members decline to take officers’ word for it that everything’s fine (who have taken Rocklands’ word for it, whose record is so bad)?  

Tree-screening remains unresolved, though the Appeal Decision required it. Long ago the ‘Bahcheli Report’ (para 6.3.3) criticised the Council for its laxness on this. 

Comments on the current application can be made here.

Unfortunately public confidence in the Council’s decision-making in planning and enforcement is in decline (what the National Planning  Policy Framework (NPPF) para 58 warned against). It is insulting to suggest that the breaches of control regarding the Bunker are ‘trivial or technical’ when the Planning Inspector’s carefully weighed decision has been repeatedly flouted, and the Council by its shrugging response is complicit in these breaches.    

The case-handling in this matter has been far from what HBC calls ‘high quality, fair, proportionate, consistent, open and efficient’ (Planning Enforcement Policy). Given the history of chronic carelessness and dishonesty involved, HBC brings itself into disrepute for its low standards as it continues to look the other way or stick its head in the sand.

Posted 16:54 Saturday, Oct 3, 2020 In: Home Ground

6 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Passing By

    After years of complaints on this website, I still don’t understand the ins and outs of all of this
    but
    I think it’s an unobtrusive lovely, gorgeous building
    not to mention the fabulous views
    and would love to live in it
    (with extra safety precautions)

    Comment by Passing By — Saturday, Oct 10, 2020 @ 14:10

  2. Bryan Fisher

    Well done Bernard for investigating this! There is more than a whiff of something rotten over all of this affair….

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Friday, Oct 9, 2020 @ 12:26

  3. Keith Piggott

    HOT records, on 5th May 2016, Richard Heritage wrote, “I lived in Burton St.Leonards for nine years right round the corner from Cllr. Chowney and I can reliably say I never ever had anybody from the Labour Party come to my door and talk to me about the borough. Any other readers here had knocks on their door from this caring political party?”

    Though not a member I do not dunn the labour party, during our right to buy (2012-2014), we enjoyed Labour Councillor Phil Scott full support.

    Our litany of developers and planning officers complicit aggressions began in 2007, (trespassers turned out to be a planning officer with developers to expand adjacent ‘tennis court’ site); site-plans backed by officers’ false boundary plan encroached our 1892 boundary; excavations meters into our garden took away fence and hedge then replacements; enforcement officers altered site-meeting notes to a false transcript – denied by ESCC manager; developers and officers ignored agreed boundary; officers aided annexation by their unrecorded ad hoc ‘survey’ denying ESCC and 1892 boundary also our independent FRICS survey.

    Councillors may be guilty of blindness to their officers’ planning abuses, also reported boasts of corruption, but we the electorate cannot blame any single political party across the borough. Politics and money always meld.

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Monday, Oct 5, 2020 @ 21:01

  4. Bolshie

    Firstly, an excellent analysis of the current situation Bernard.
    While I agree with Mr Rayment, it is not only the Labour councillors ( all keep very hush about it) who must bear responsibility for this absurd fiasco but the planning officers too.
    Surely this is a classic case of total mis-management, a waste of public money when you look at six or so years this has been going on, given the hours put into this one application.
    Then you have to ask just how have the owners of this “blot on the Landscape” have managed to more or less get away with so much. Why has this planning department been on a back foot with the Bunker? What is HBC afraid of here and its owners?
    Having said that the permission bestowed upon it came only about five months after the previous application for it was refused. Here you had Ray Crawford the head of the department refusing it and then one of his subordinates passing it by a delegated decision. Not even a planning committee one.
    The concealment concerning planning issues about this building is a testament to the opacity of HBC practices. And don’t forget in order to find anything out about it and the Rocklands landslip next to it, many of us have filed a plethora of F.O.I’s .

    Comment by Bolshie — Monday, Oct 5, 2020 @ 11:23

  5. Stewart Rayment

    Do you seriously expect ant better from Labour?

    Comment by Stewart Rayment — Sunday, Oct 4, 2020 @ 23:24

  6. Keith Piggott

    Bernard’s final sentance encapsulates HBC planning enforcement perfectly. HBC notoriously always supine to monied developers, if not complicit. KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Sunday, Oct 4, 2020 @ 22:50

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