Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Ecclesbourne Glen protest picnic last Sunday, 15 June © Dave Reading

Country Park still threatened

The previously reported ‘Country Park anger’ is intensifying, Bernard McGinley gives an update.

Over four hundred objections (and counting) were sent to Hastings Borough Council, in protest against the new building in the Country Park (case reference HS/FA/14/00406). The application is retrospective, because the building now on the Rocklands caravan park site, obtruding into the Country Park, is not the one that planning permission was given for.  For some Borough residents, the abuse of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – as well as of the planning process – should be enough to end the possibility of this new blight of the landscape.  The official recommendation of the HBC Development Manager however is:  ‘Grant permission’.  An alternative response would be to report the case to Enforcement for planning breach.

A closely related controversy is the treatment of earlier cases.  In brief, case HS/FA/12/00471, a planning application for a two-storey building on the site of the then existing bungalow at Rocklands was refused planning permission for a variety of predictable reasons.   Application HS/FA/12/00952 soon followed.   Page 2 of the HBC report stated ‘This application follows refusal HS/FA/12/00471 for the same proposal.’.  Even so, this ‘same proposal’ was approved.  (As ‘delegated powers’ were involved, it did not even go to the Planning Committee.)

Many are concerned about these Rocklands cases and that HBC seems to be neglecting its statutory responsibilities.  The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2014-2019 (and its predecessors) explains these clearly.  Paragraph 1.1 begins: ‘The primary purpose of AONB designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty’.  The formal duty to have regard to that beauty and its conservation exists under Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Paragraph 3.4 of the Management Plan explains that as a planning body, the Council MUST ‘take the AONB Management Plan into account . . .  in the assessment of planning applications’.   Paragraph 1.8 on ‘the duty of regard’ also shows the obligation to consider the purposes of AONB designation in its decision making.  Compliance is scant. Instead, Hastings Borough Council has ignored the law, and government guidance, and its defined duties (including Duties on relevant authorities to have regard to the purposes of National Parks, AONBs and the Broads: Guidance Note (Defra, 2005)).

Many protested against the acceptability of the present application — for reasons simple, intricate, design-related, policy-based, procedural, pedantic (as planners can be), witty, legal, heartfelt, local, and even international, given the status of the Country Park. (And what are the HBC criteria for ‘minor non-material’ and ‘minor material’ amendments?). The High Weald AONB Unit of East Sussex County Council has also made a statement opposing this development:
This application  by extending the balcony  and increasing the physical mass and obtrusiveness of the construction has materially changed the scale and impact of the development, from that previously commented upon.
On balance, I [the Director] consider that the development, in such a visible and sensitive location, will have a serious impact on people’s enjoyment of the AONB special qualities and will not contribute to conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the area.

The case is scheduled to be discussed at the HBC Planning Committee on Wednesday 18 June at 6pm at the Town Hall. If the case is considered, Old Town Councillors John Hodges and Dawn Poole are understood to be speaking against this unilateral and de facto expansion of Rocklands into the Country Park. Having organised a petition in protest, the Friends of the County Park are also allowed to address the Committee for five minutes.

People are also concerned about the recent Ecclesbourne Glen landslips. The interim report on these, commissioned by HBC from Coffey Geotechnics, is inconclusive about their causes and recommends further investigation (‘a more definitive stability assessment and hazard zonation’).  It also recommends that the drainage and water systems of the caravan park be examined and that the lowest terrace not be used for caravans.  To its credit, HBC has made the report available online (there are also appendices.)

The Right of Way past the site to the rest of the Country Park is at risk of being lost, possibly forever.  The several videos by Steve Ward on the damage at and near Ecclesbourne Glen provide further information and are worth watching, such as this link on YouTube.

For some, the erosion has been procedural and administrative, democratic, and even moral, as well as physical.  Could this contravention (retrofitted) be the opening needed for more development on our treasured green spaces?  What will we bequeath future generations if we allow this to happen?

In the present case, this retrospective application proposes wanton damage to the Country Park. 40 years ago, in July 1974, the official plaque for its opening celebrated a Country Park of UNSPOILT CLIFF WALKS, WOODLANDS AND GLENS.

Few, outside the planning department want it otherwise…


Posted 14:42 Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 In: Home Ground