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Whatever happened to Warren Glen?

People are wondering why they can no longer gain access to Warren Glen in the eastern part of Hastings Country Park and are curious to know the circumstances surrounding the sale of Warren Cottage. Richard Price reports.

During a recent council planning meeting Don Wise, president of the Hastings Badger Protection Society, said:  “I happen to have been the first Country Park warden. I did the job for 11 years. The Country Park as a whole, including that cottage, was given by Major Sayer and the Milward family from Heathfield to the people of Hastings to enjoy and roam across the Country Park at will, everywhere. It was a free.

“This is not like the Combe Haven country park where we all have to walk along the footpaths. The Country Park is a country park given to the people of Hastings to enjoy the freedom to roam. How was that little house sold? What is the council doing with the money? ”

Murray Davidson, environment and natural resources manager, replied:  “Warren Cottage was sold by the council and the receipt for it is public knowledge. The new visitor centre is being funded through a contribution from the sale of Warren Cottage. The council is quite comfortable with that.”

But are the people of Hastings ‘comfortable’ with such arrogance? Was the sale carried out in a forthright and open manner? Wouldn’t it have been more profitable to find a tenant for the cottage? The public doesn’t know the answer to that one because it was never asked.

In 1888 both the East and West Hill were considered to be common land and unavailable for development. However, land on the East and West Hill was purchased from the Milward estate by the council for £24,000.

In 1935 Major Alfred Carlisle Sayer sold and donated the land that he owned in the reserve to Hastings council. In 1963 the major sold another 215 acres to the council, including Fairlight Glen and Ecclesbourne Glen and part of Warren Glen.

In 2001 the council paid half a million pounds to buy out Richard Ashworth, the tenant farmer of Fairlight Place Farm. Mr Ashworth, now South East MEP for the Conservative Party, lived in an 11-bedroom manor called Fairlight Place and owned the dairy farm. Slurry from the farm was polluting Fairlight Glen, a designated area of special scientific interest. The council needed to take action so as to avoid being fined £20,000. This had a detrimental effect on the finances of the Country Park and caused the council to try to sell Warren Cottage.

In May 2013, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, amended planning legislation so as to include permitted development rights – these constitute a general planning permission from government that can be applied to developments in a conservation area, national park or area of outstanding natural beauty. In effect this means that, provided the council agree, the developer does not have to apply for planning permission.

In July 2013, Hastings Borough Council used permitted rights to change the use of Warren Cottage from offices to residential. There was no public consultation.

In October 2013, the council gave itself planning permission under delegated authority for an extension to the building. This is only allowed if no objections are received. No notifications were sent out or posted; there was no public scrutiny or objections because people were unaware of the changes.

Warren Cottage was listed as a two-bedroom detached house for sale in June 2014. The sales pitch for the cottage declared it was a “rare opportunity…to secure a detached former Local Authority Ranger’s Office, situated within Hastings Country Park, with over 267 hectares in an area of outstanding natural beauty and conservation.”

The sales blurb continued:  “The property has… consent to be converted into residential use and there is currently an application to provide an extension to the west elevation to create a kitchen. The property is believed to date to the late 1800s with principal accommodation of around 74 square metres as well as a cellar. Warren Cottage does require modernisation and updating and is considered to provide excellent potential within this sought after location. We understand that there is water and electricity supplied, but it would need drainage.”

By October it had sold for £275,000 and was mentioned in a council cabinet meeting report. Within days the council had allocated funds from the sale of Warren Cottage to the construction of the new visitor centre – the Hastings Country Park Interpretive Centre – and said it would be seeking grant aid to augment these.

Since April Hastings Borough Council had been working with a not-for-profit limited company called Groundwork South to meet its objective. Groundwork South state on their website:  “We work directly with local communities, government, landowners and other partners to design and implement improvements in parks and open spaces, safeguarding them for future generations.”

The new owner of Warren Cottage has wasted no time. In November a planning application (HS/FA/14/00893) for developments at Warren Cottage was submitted, calling for: “Proposed side extension to form new bedroom and ensuite. Proposed rebuilding of attached store to form new porch area. Proposed demolition of WC and porch to form new lobby area to rear elevation. Proposed raised decking area, leading to a new Conservatory. Insertion of 3 No. rooflights.  Internal alterations to facilitate proposals. New detached studio/storage building.”

It has already attracted 30 comments, with the main objection being that it is double in size and too large for the setting within the designated area of special scientific interest and with an access road that would run over it as well as the special area of conservation which covers parts of Warren Glen. Some of those posting comments are upset that trees have been cut down.

What some might see as improvements, others might see as destruction.

One wonders how the public would have reacted had it been consulted and given the opportunity to vote on the sale of the cottage and the closure of the footpath alongside it that was used by the public to access Little Warren.

One also wonders whether this is what we can expect from Hastings Borough Council, given its recent record on the Country Park.

 

Some of the history of Warren Glen was sourced from Steve Peak’s excellent Hastings Chronicle article, Hastings Country Park, The Chronicle.

 

Posted 16:54 Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015 In: Home Ground

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