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Alma Villas Photo Richard Price

Alma Villas Photo Richard Price

Highways Department gains £10,000 by supporting application

Local planning applications often seem to be a contentious topic – and the proposal to demolish a bungalow and build ten houses was one that catalysed a vehement response from local residents. Local Government and Planning freelance journalist, Richard Price, reports.

It was like watching an awful play; well rehearsed and a predictable, sad ending, although not every actor stuck to their designated role. The audience’s emotions ranged from anger and frustration to disbelief and tears. Sadly, it wasn’t theatre, but a planning committee meeting.

The development site is in the Silverhill area of St Leonards-on-Sea. The application for outline planning permission* (HS/OA/15/00211), involving the demolition of a bungalow (56 Alma Terrace) and the replacement of the garden with ten houses was supported by the planning department.

*Applications for outline planning permission seek to establish whether the scale and nature of a proposed development would be acceptable to the local planning authority, before a fully detailed proposal is put forward.

Alma Terrace is a very narrow road and residents believe that access would be an issue and were therefore surprised when the Highways’ expert supported the application. However, communities pull together in times of need and residents affected by the application (Alma Terrace, Alma Villas and Burry Road) created a petition. Although 225 people signed it – almost every household in the three roads – it was rejected by Hastings Borough Council. Petitions are often rejected by the planning department; there is a standard format and people sometimes do not realise that the subject must be visible at the top of each page.

Local resident, Ms Edwards said, “It was disheartening, but it made us more determined than ever. After all that, there was no way that anyone was going to say ‘we’re not going to do that’… We just got on and did it again.” Residents subsequently submitted three new petitions each with fifty signatures.

At the planning meeting on 29 July 2015, there wasn’t enough room in the main chamber of the Town Hall to cater for all of the members of the public who wanted to attend and the overflow room was used with a video link to proceedings.

When Mike Pickup, the developer’s agent, said that he had intended to build seven houses, but the Council’s planning department had advised him to build more, I heard gasps of disbelief. The figure of ten was decided upon and he went on to mention the financial contribution to the Highways’ Department for improvement of the cycle network in the area.

Alma Villas Photo Richard Price

Alma Villas Photo Richard Price

Philip Hawthorn of Alma Villas spoke out against the application, saying “This deal has been sorted out by Planning for its own ends. It is something that all people don’t want. We don’t want more traffic. We put forward an idea for a play area, but it didn’t get a look in. From the top downwards, this has been about making money rather than doing what is right for the community.”

Sarah Crundon of Burry Road said, “Look at all the people here. We are local people who care about our community. We want our children to grow up in a good and healthy environment. We all have other things to do with our time. We are here because we care.” She went on to query the strange decision by Highways to back the application, “I have no idea when Highways came, they must have visited in the day when we were at work – and it must have been when no one was using the road.”

Councillor Fitzgerald spoke on behalf of the residents, asking the committee to stick up for local residents and common sense. “I cannot express the levels of anger, anxiety and distress that this application has caused people. This is a garden grab, pure and simple. These are only supposed to happen when they are high quality and enhance the local area. If this goes ahead then over development will continue. St Leonards on Sea is already one of the most densely populated areas in Sussex. This site was never included in the Local Development Plan and the residents have not been consulted. Planning should resist the inappropriate development of gardens.” His speech was applauded, but the final act was about to take place: a discussion leading to the decision, in which members of the public were not allowed to participate.

Councillor Wincott said, “The developer was told that seven houses were inappropriate for the site. Is it normal to try to fit more in? He said that he was following guidance from planning. Did they request the specific number of ten?” The answer was that the number of ten was not suggested, but the developer was advised that seven was an inappropriate use of the site.

“But shouldn’t we have larger houses and gardens, so as to meet the policy test for gardens?” Councillor Wincott replied. Councillors went on to discuss the small sizes of the rooms, but the response from Development Control Officer, Mr R Crawford, was that the application was only outline, therefore these were not grounds for a refusal.

Councillor Edwards asked whether any of the houses had been allocated as affordable? The answer was ‘no’, because the number of houses would have to be eleven before this was a requirement.

Councillor Wincott proposed a motion to support the application citing the need for housing, but added, “I am uncomfortable with the applicant being advised to put more housing in.”

Councillor Edwards said, “I would like to return to the original discussion to move from seven to ten houses. The developer is knowledgeable and very experienced; he decided seven houses would be appropriate for the site. It is beyond me to understand why the Planning Department intervened in this regard. We have moved from large houses to smaller ones. The question Planning seemed to have asked is how many can we get on it? Ten is too many. There will be no storage areas for these houses. In this tiny pocket handkerchief development it is non-existent. Are these grounds for refusal? I cannot find the policy, but am asking you, the Planning Department and the legal team, to give them to me?”

Both Planning and legal did not assist the councillor, who was informed that grounds for refusal motions have to be decided prior to the meeting. This upset some spectators, who felt that the decision was undemocratic.

Councillor Lee visualised the nightmare journey down the narrow roads and was applauded. The response from the Chairman was, “Yes but we are not agreeing access at the moment. This is only an outline application and the expert in the Highways Department supports it.”

Councillor Edwards said, “East Sussex County Councils Highways’ Department are supporting this application, but they have an interest. They are going to receive ten thousand pounds for their cycle path.” Adding, “You can look at me like that Chairman, but please explain to me why I am wrong?”

It was left for Ray Crawford to explain, “The regulations around section 106 mean that you cannot bully an applicant to agree to get what you want. The linkage here is as far as you can push it really. But we can justify it for the additional cycle way that is going behind Asda.”

The final vote was three in favour and three against with the Chairman giving his casting vote for the developer.

After the meeting I spoke with Sarah Crunden of Alma Terrace, who said, “We are not totally objecting except on the density of the housing at the cost of our community life. We have the most wonderful community. Why pick on us?”

The charade was over and the audience left the theatre feeling both let down and ignored.

 

Posted 11:42 Wednesday, Aug 19, 2015 In: Home Ground

12 Comments


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  1. Sussex Lady

    Why are we not allowed to know what persuaded the Inspector to change his mind on the deletion of the Harrow Lane playing fields and allow HBC to retain it as a development site? Where is this transparency we hear so much about?

    Comment by Sussex Lady — Thursday, Aug 27, 2015 @ 09:03

  2. DAR

    As I said before, there are an increasing number of people who feel that planning in Hastings/St Leonards is out of control, not transparent or informative enough, and entirely unconcerned about the wishes of “ordinary” individuals.

    I would add that at the beginning of September (3rd?), the council will meet to formally adopt the Development Management Plan (housing plans for the next 13 years). This will include massive housing developments near The Ridge – just at the time that that road is about to be choc-a-bloc with even more traffic thanks to the link road! Air quality? Not considered important, apparently. And one of these sites – Harrow Lane Playing Fields – (140 houses) is a public amenity owned by the council (i.e. all of us), but that doesn’t matter, of course, as long as housing targets are met. HBC’s planners singled out this site when objecting to the Inspector’s recommendation to delete it from the DMP. Whatever was said (which no-one knows, of course), the Inspector duly obliged and withdrew his recommendation. Outrageous. Ashdown Cllr. Cooke is unhappy with the situation,and I’m hoping he can put down an amendment reprieving the playing fields – but I won’t hold my breath.

    Comment by DAR — Wednesday, Aug 26, 2015 @ 20:00

  3. patricia

    There are some questions which need answers here: why did Councillor Wincott second the proposal to grant planning consent and subsequently abstain from voting for the approval? How is it possible for the Chairman to use his vote ‘twice’ once for the proposal and then as a casting vote? And why did Councillor Dowling take part in a site visit when he expressed a prejudicial interest and left the Chamber while the planning application was discussed? What was the point of his site visit? Answers please.

    Comment by patricia — Tuesday, Aug 25, 2015 @ 15:40

  4. patricia

    Heather Grief is correct – once outline consent is granted that is it – as good as full planning consent….the only way to have outline consent quashed is to prove that the planners gave the planning committee incorrect/flawed reports relating to the application and even then is won’t be easy (The Hollington Valley proposed link road comes to mind here). It is rare for outline consents to be reversed. The entire set up is geared to confuse/defeat/disenfranchise residents and it is high time the planning situation in this town is made the subject of a public enquiry.

    Comment by patricia — Saturday, Aug 22, 2015 @ 08:08

  5. Heather Grief

    Outline planning applications are an abomination that should have been banned years ago – once given, whatever rubbish the developer / planners want will simply go through because, according to officialdom, outline permission has been given – and the developer can change the plan between the council rejecting it and the developer appealing to the Minister – the mere threat of this causes HBC to crumble, because they have to pay the costs if the Inspector sent to decide the matter backs the developer. Just once did a Liberal council back me re. the replacing of the coach houses at the back of Markwick Terrace with modern houses, and the Inspector rejected the plan (it had miraculously changed from coach-house-looking houses to a row of soulless modern things) on the grounds that the street (top end of Tower Rd West) had a nice open aspect, that the windows of the new houses would be too close to those of Markwick Terrace, and that if permission were granted it would set a precedent and HBC would find it very hard to stop the whole of that side of the street from being developed as housing. As part of my efforts, I contacted the Victorian Society, which informed me that everything within the curtilage of a listed building is covered by the listing, and its alteration or removal would require listed buildings consent; HBC consistently and persistently ignore this fact. The developer sold the coach houses very easily and at high prices to locals who wanted a large garage / boat-house, and everyone is happy. The new owners look after them, and have done upkeep on them – for 2 of them this is very high quality – though never getting the consent, because HBC always tells them they don’t need it.
    Good luck, you’ll need it!

    Comment by Heather Grief — Friday, Aug 21, 2015 @ 12:57

  6. Zelly Restorick

    Reply from Richard Price: I think that what Ray Crawford meant was that what we are doing is within the law. However, I don’t understand is how it could be “pushed any further.” Ray Crawford knew that the legal advisor was sitting nearby and would have intervene if he was incorrect. So, it could have been that he was checking it was ok in front of the legal advisor along with answering Councillor Edward’s question.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Friday, Aug 21, 2015 @ 10:43

  7. patricia

    So the planning officer Ray Crawford informs everyone that the Section 106 Agreement will provide an additional cycle track behind Asda. Well ‘aint that just great – surely the residents of Alma Terrace and adjoining roads will applaud this! Imagine that – a lovely new cycle way for which the generous developer will anti up £10k to ESCC – lucky old ESCC. The approval of this application is a real smack in the face for democracy and the rights of residents.

    Ken Davis asks when will something be done about the planning operation here in Hastings – a very good question but one that has been asked so many times and over so many years. Surely the time has come for a public enquiry into the workings of this department Something is not right here….all those people objecting and even some councillors clearly uneasy about this decision – who really is running our town?

    Comment by patricia — Thursday, Aug 20, 2015 @ 17:27

  8. Richard Heritage

    Looking at the Land Registry Title which is what I am doing as I write a covenant for this property states:

    “No more than five house are to be built on the said land.” While it goes on to say how any house must have a certain value which would have been to make sure there was no rough stuff built. No temporary buildings or dwellinghouse of any description.

    This covenant could be challenged at a Land Tribunal if a group or even an individual wanted to pursue it. Also for those not aware Covenants are not considered at planning applications. Developers often break them.

    Comment by Richard Heritage — Thursday, Aug 20, 2015 @ 17:01

  9. Sussexman99

    Another prime example of the corruption in the system is the Archery Road development. Sold to the public as a predominantly private housing development to get the permission through, then changed overnight to 90% social housing once the permission had been granted. Bang out of order.

    Comment by Sussexman99 — Thursday, Aug 20, 2015 @ 13:58

  10. David

    Cananyone explain to me what the quote from R Crawford means? Another appalling decision by HBC.

    Comment by David — Thursday, Aug 20, 2015 @ 12:50

  11. ken davis

    Ah, when oh when is something going to be done about operation of the planning system in Hastings? What some people may not know is that following a number of recent planning fiascos the planners are being ‘reviewed’ by the Planning Advisory Service. Do not hold your breath though that anything will change because not only is the basic (national) system poor beyond belief but our Councillors do not have the wherewithal to resist officer led decisions even when quite clearly they can see a decision which will harm the local environment.

    Comment by ken davis — Wednesday, Aug 19, 2015 @ 19:05

  12. DAR

    An awful, but entirely typical scenario when it comes to planning in Hastings/St Leonards. And isn’t it time people were PROPERLY informed about proposed developments well before deadlines? Not many people read the planning application column in the local paper, and not everyone has a computer to access HBC’s planning website.All householders likely to be affected by a development should be leafleted at the very start of the process. Right now, it’s all far too secretive. And people don’t like it.

    Comment by DAR — Wednesday, Aug 19, 2015 @ 18:45

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