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New build above Ecclesbourne Glen (far left)

The 'Bunker' (far left) continues to glower over Ecclesbourne Glen.

Pig’s ear causes sty in eye

As the campaign continues over damage to Hastings Country Park, the major eyesore that is the two-storey bunker on the East Hill is still there, a continuing blott on the landscape. There are other issues too, as Bernard McGinley found out when he attended a recent public meeting.

In June the planning committee of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) rejected a retrospective application for a ‘minor amendment’ (planning ref HS/FA/14/00406) at Rocklands Caravan Park intruding into Hastings Country Park. The professional advice from the planning department was for acceptance, but well over 400 people objected.

The rejection by councillors was unanimous. The vice chair was later quoted as saying: “It was a disastrous decision to grant permission in the first place. A lack of enforcement action on various issues is deeply regrettable and it has become a total pig’s ear in my opinion. We have failed to retain the trust of the public and although we do not have the power of this committee to order the tearing down of this building, we will look into seeing whether the original permission can be revoked.”

What has happened since? Nothing. Is any form of pig’s ear rectification in sight? None known of. Has building on the site stopped? Hard to say.

The controversy has several names – the Country Park, Rocklands, Ecclesbourne Glen – and a number of aspects, including:

  • the new building — and its departure from its granted planning permission (ref HS/FA/12/00952) in height, massing, ‘footprint’, orientation and balcony;
  • caravan park aspects:  extensive tree removal (in order to provide visitors with sea views by destroying Country Park views) and the building of a hardstanding for more caravans;
  • the landslips at Ecclesbourne Glen in 2013 and 2014:  were they caused by the extensive damage to natural drainage? Coffey Geotechnical Ltd did a report for HBC that recommended (paragraph 7.1) more assessment work — but this has so far been ignored by HBC;
  • the licensing history of the caravan site and its management by HBC, including the history of site visits;
  • case management by HBC planning department, including the acceptance of faulty and unprofessional documents. How can an application for a new building (ref HS/FA/12/00471) be refused in 2012, and yet a virtually identical application (ref HS/FA/12/00952) be approved later in the year? Why was public notification so scanty? Is the use of delegated powers satisfactory?
  • the possible ways ahead, including

– a revocation of the planning permission on the basis that it was obtained through misrepresentation;

– an investigation as to how the right of way through Ecclesbourne Glen can be restored; and

– a review of planning management.

At a packed meeting at the White Rock Hotel on Sunday 5 October, these and related matters were explored. Maggie Alderson for the Save Ecclesbourne Glen campaign said that the group were not going to be bored into submission by council non-response, and explained the need for new volunteers for the campaign committee.

"Caravans like bacilli..."

Bob Okines used slides to give a recent history of the site and explain how cherished views in the Country Park had been ruined.  Google Earth pictures showed caravans like bacilli on the site.  The ‘Bunker’ meanwhile, visible from so far away, dominates the landscape.

Michael Madden spoke of the council’s (and councillors’) failure to acknowledge the landslip question (by “a complete ignoral,” as one deputy prime minister used to say), and its reluctance to admit that anything was amiss.  Its ‘sponge wall’ style was extremely frustrating — and yet citizens should not have to do the council’s work for it. The HBC corporate plan emphasised openness, transparency, greenness, and so on. But in practice these were hard to find.  Meanwhile the council treated the Rocklands management with remarkable indulgence.  The lack of accountability was clear, leading to public loss of trust in the council and the need for persistent action.

An unmentioned instance of such evasiveness can be found on the local Labour Party website, where Cllr Peter Chowney, lead member for Regeneration and deputy council leader, states: “There have been allegations that lack of drainage at Rocklands contributed to the landslip, but a geotechnical report commissioned by the council said that this was unlikely.”

But what the Coffey geotechnics report considers unlikely is that the new two-storey building caused the landslip – not that the major changes to natural drainage are an unlikely cause: “Consequently, it is considered highly unlikely this construction has had any detrimental impact upon the local slope stability or caused the development of the landslide. However, details of the drainage from the property should be investigated” (page 5). The likelihood of a further investigation seems unlikely.

In a lively Q&A session, various points of view were expressed, including enforcement action, replacement tree-screening, the likelihood of demolition of the new building and the scope for developers to ‘game the system’.  Cllrs Lee, Lock and Poole were present and contributed, as did Sarah Owen, Labour’s parliamentary candidate (MP Amber Rudd and Cllr Hodges sent apologies).

Chris Hurrell outlined some of the frustrations of a campaign that has a long way to go to fight this supreme ugliness and the attitudes that allowed it to happen.  In time the Country Park may yet regain its ‘unspoilt’ status — but in the short term the committee has to cope with official indifference (aka CYA) and expensive legal fees.

Peter Gray then lightened the mood with a skilful and witty ukulele entertainment.

The Victorian painter and definer of beauty Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema enjoyed the summer of 1877 at Rocklands.  What would he make of the place now?

The Save Ecclesbourne Glen group welcomes support for its continuing campaign. You can reach them here.

See Country Park still threatened.

Posted 11:37 Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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