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Proposed development on the Bulverhythe recreation ground (image: Design and Access Statement).

Councillors’ war of words over Bulverhythe project

The 192-house proposed development project on the Bulverhythe recreation ground has aroused much controversy. Conservative councillors representing West St Leonards have come out against the project and the Labour council’s handling of it. Meanwhile, Andy Batsford, the lead councillor for housing, argues it is doable and essential if the borough’s housing needs are to be met. Nick Terdre reports.

While there is no dispute that Hastings has a substantial housing deficit, and especially of affordable accommodation, the location and nature of some of the council’s proposals are contentious, and none more so than its plan to build 192 houses, including 77 affordable units, on the lower tier of Bulverhythe recreation ground.

Since the planning application was lodged in December, a war of words has broken out between councillors on this matter, with the Tory party’s West St Leonards representatives Matthew Beaver and Karl Beaney criticising the scheme and Labour’s Andy Batsford, the housing and homelessness lead, defending it.

In a recent statement Beaver and Beaney berated the Labour-run council for submitting a planning application “Despite there being near unanimous opposition by the residents of Bexhill Road…Even though there are still some fundamental and important questions still not answered, even though there are statements being put forward with, as yet, no proof to back them up, even though a major green space will be concreted over.”

They said the site was only thought of as a possibility for housing when the proposal for a sports village was being mooted. “Let’s not beat around the bush about this site, IT IS A FLOOD PLAIN, and over the past few months has flooded a number of times according to local residents – who have proof to show this.”

The scheme “is only going ahead due to a £7 million grant [actually £6.9m] ‘to remove barriers to develop the site’,” they said, “But this money could have been much better spent on sites that already have planning permission, are not on a flood plain and have lain dormant for many years.”

Of the “extensive consultations with local residents and wider stakeholders” referred to by Cllr Batsford as having taken place, they said, “The question residents are asking is what was the point of the consultation if this Labour run administration is simply not going to listen to them…”

Aerial view of site (outlined in red) at present (image: Design and Access Statement).

Batsford responds

In response Cllr Batsford told HOT, “The claim of near unanimous opposition is just not correct, there was a big mix of local people attending all four events, with many different questions, concerns and views,” including “residents pleased to see the flood issue being dealt with and those welcoming new young families to access the playing fields and playgrounds.”

While acknowledging that responses from some parties are still outstanding, he said, “Before the planning process asking for comments comes to an end, all information and statutory consultees’ comments will be in and will complete all the information needed for the planning committee to make an informed decision.”

He contested the Tory councillors’ claim about the soggy nature of the lower tier. “This site is not a flood plain,” he said. “If [the Tory councillors] spent any time in their own ward watching how this site works, they would know, just as local people have told me, that this land does not fill up with water via the river or stream to the north, it basically fills with rainwater if it rains constantly for days and, due to the compacted clay soil, there is no chance for the water to drain away.

“This can be dealt with really simply and the plans show how in detail. But briefly the top soil and compacted clay is taken away and replaced by less compacted soil of the same type, together with some slow drainage works to ensure the site does drain well.”

He called the suggestion that the grant be spent on other sites “the biggest red herring which these local councillors keep repeating in the hope it in some way becomes true. The £6.9million from Homes England is 100% linked to the lower tier site.” After the sports village proposal fell through, HBC asked if the money – at the time £2.9m was on offer – could be moved to another site; the request was turned down but the grant was increased by £4.9m, he said.

While stating that other sites would also be brought forward, Batsford said in conclusion: “This is a once in a life-time opportunity to deal with the threat of flooding the river brings to the current residents of the whole Bexhill Road area, with an eye on global warming and possible one-in-100-year weather events.

“I just cannot see why these so-called concerned [councillors] for the residents would not be pleased, as this money doesn’t come round every day and it will protect hundreds of residents’ homes for years to come.”

Beaver and Beaney’s ended their statement saying: “Whilst we all know we need more housing, the Labour run administration should be concentrating more on bringing forward sites that already have planning permission and stop trying to build over every green space it can find.

“It is now time for residents not only to be listened to but also to be heard.”

How soon the application will come before the planning committee is not clear. It is not on the agenda for its next meeting on 17 March, but there is another meeting scheduled for 24 March for which the agenda has not yet been published.

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Posted 21:02 Tuesday, Mar 9, 2021 In: Home Ground

10 Comments

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  1. Christopher Cormack

    Can anyone confirm that this is the site where they found a buried viking ship in the 1930s, but they hastily covered it over again, not wanting it to delay the development of the site as Pebsham aerodrome?

    Comment by Christopher Cormack — Tuesday, Mar 23, 2021 @ 16:40

  2. Mrs heather Grief

    If it’s not liable to flood, why do the pictures of the proposed houses show them with garages on the ground floor, with a flight of about 12 steps up to the front doors?
    Hardly disabled-friendly either, nor for people pushing prams and pushchairs, and highly annoying for posties, delivery persons of every sort, and removal men.
    There are usually very good reasons why land inside the town’s boundaries has not been built on already.

    Comment by Mrs heather Grief — Monday, Mar 15, 2021 @ 13:57

  3. Penny

    I’ve given up trying to wade through the lumpy porridge that is HBC’s website to comment on the Draft Plan etc. as the comments of experts in the relevant fields, and the public, are generally ignored by those making decisions and wielding power.
    I have not concluded whether this is a deliberate ploy on their part, or merely further incompetence. Either way, they have lost my trust and vote.
    The Draft Plan in itself is a document worthy of star rating in any Bring Back Plain Speaking contest.

    Comment by Penny — Monday, Mar 15, 2021 @ 09:39

  4. Stewart Rayment

    When I visited Lake Batsford last winter, parts of the site must have been under 2-3 feet of water. Sorry Andy you seem to have missed something. I would suggest the area is a serious candidate for rewilding.

    Comment by Stewart Rayment — Monday, Mar 15, 2021 @ 00:26

  5. chris hurrell

    “This is not a floodplain” says Councillor Batsford. The Environment Agency (what do they know?) in their formal objection to the application defines the area as being in a Flood Zone 3b functional floodplain:

    “This site lies within Flood Zone 3b functional floodplain, which is land defined as having a high probability of flooding. We are aware that the site has flooded on numerous occasions at a much higher frequency than that which defines FZ3b.”

    The Environment Agency objects on 3 grounds:
    1 We object in principal to the proposed development as it falls within a flood risk vulnerability category that is inappropriate to the Flood Zone in which the application site is located. The application is therefore contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its associated planning practice guidance. We recommend that planning permission is refused on this basis.
    2 In the absence of an acceptable Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) we object to this application and recommend that planning permission is refused.
    3 We object to this application due to the construction of a weir and embankments across the Combe Haven and its floodplain.

    Well worth reading the Environment Agency objections at https://publicaccess.hastings.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=_HSTBC_DCAPR_118023

    Comment by chris hurrell — Saturday, Mar 13, 2021 @ 17:30

  6. Vitruvius

    I am confused by the quote attributed to Councillor Batsford, namely “This site is not a flood plain”.

    Gov.UK’s “Flood Map For Planning” clearly shows the Bulverhythe recreation ground to be within a designated flood plain.

    Is the Councillor privy to some information not available to the public?

    Comment by Vitruvius — Friday, Mar 12, 2021 @ 10:36

  7. ken davis

    I arrived to work at Sevenoaks District Council in 1990 to find that a housing development had been recently finished on land called would you believe, WATERCRESS BEDS! The council had had all necessary experts reports, pumping and retention ponds built etc. Remember this is pre much concern about global warming. There was an exceptional rain storm that year and all the houses were flooded. This is absolutely true. WATERCRESS BEDS! Rather like being on a former river bed which is actually what we have at Bulverhythe of course.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Mar 11, 2021 @ 13:26

  8. DAR

    Ken is right. This can only be a short-term “solution”. I’m afraid Batsford and other Labour councillors are housebuilding zealots who don’t care about views of residents who object to inappropriate sites, and who are hell-bent on concreting over every blade of grass they can find. The same thing is happening in Ashdown where the Harrow Lane Playing Fields are being sacrificed to their zealotry, never mind that they want also to develop other sites in the vicinity (notably the huge Ashdown House site). I’m a floating voter, and I’ve voted for 4 different parties locally, but I won’t be voting Labour for the foreseeable future.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Mar 11, 2021 @ 12:04

  9. S Moore

    Yes, we need homes but NOT THERE on a flood plain. I live on the Marina in St Leonards and cannot believe the council are going ahead with building on this site. I have heard so many people saying they may not vote for them this time because of this. I remember in Crawley Leisure centre where all the drains would get blocked whenever it rained hard. The cinema had to close due to the toilets overflowing. Well done writing this article. Hopefully the council will come to their senses.

    Comment by S Moore — Thursday, Mar 11, 2021 @ 11:15

  10. ken davis

    I have no doubt that Andy Batsford has the best of intentions in defending this scheme but unfortunately he simply does not have the design, technical, and project management experience for such projects….and neither do his officers.
    The objection to this project is essentially twofold:
    1.The flooding issue can be solved short-term by pumping water up the hill but this does not recognise global climate change which is no longer a long term threat but an inter-generational one. It is unlikely that in a very few years people will be able to get insurance for these houses.
    2. The Borough, and plenty of others, have land up the hill away from the flood plain which could be built on, they just need to change the local plan.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Mar 11, 2021 @ 07:40

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