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Peter Chowney, second from left, at the launch of a new edition of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (photo: HBC).

Peter Chowney, second from left, at the launch of the 100th anniversary edition of Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (photo: HBC).

Peter Chowney responds to council critics

Rocklands, the Country Park, Sea Change projects – Hastings Borough Council’s handling of such planning and development issues spawn regular critical contributions to HOT’s columns and high levels of readership. We invited council leader, Peter Chowney to respond to some of the criticism, which he did in a recent interview with Nick Terdre.

Photo: HBC.

Council leader Peter Chowney (photo: HBC).

Mr Chowney admits to taking the occasional look at HOT, but seems largely unaware of the fierce criticism that has been directed at the council in general and himself in particular on issues related to Rocklands and the Country Park. The interview took place on the second day of Rocklands’ appeal against the council’s enforcement order for the demolition of the holiday let building which stands prominently on the edge of the caravan park for all to see – the much disliked Bunker.

As we were, and still are, waiting to hear the planning inspector’s decision, I first asked about Rocklands’application to carry out tree works, which our correspondent Bernard McGinley recently reported was likely to be decided by planning officials under delegated powers, despite the fact that more than three objections had been lodged.

“The tree works will be dealt with under delegated powers in accordance with the council’s constitution,” Mr Chowney said. “Under our delegation scheme all decisions on tree works, TPOs [tree protection orders] and conservation areas are dealt with by officers.” The constitution, he said, doesn’t allow for the planning committee to be involved. “We may look at that in future, as larger batches of tree works could potentially be of public interest, but we would have to change the constitution.”

The Bunker: at the centre of controversy or not?

The Bunker: at the centre of controversy or not?

Did he see the Rocklands issue, Bunker and all, as a controversial matter? “Not really,” Mr Chowney said, “There are half a dozen people who bang on about it and are always sending emails. While out canvassing recently in Tressell ward, no one had ever mentioned it, but just the other day someone who was a friend of Bob Okines did mention it. I’ve only ever had one person in Tressell mention Rocklands.” But it may be different in the Old Town, which borders the park, he added.

Warren Cottage

I asked about Warren Cottage – should the council have sold it off? Didn’t they own it on behalf of the people of Hastings? “The cottage was sold off to raise money for the visitors’ centre, which hopefully will be set up this year,” Mr Chowney said. “The council is constantly selling bits of land and property, that’s one of the ways it keeps going now, as the government grant has been cut back so much… We’ve had a programme of selling off properties in the County Park anyway. And it wasn’t needed for the rangers’ office any more, that was the main reason for selling it.”

We moved on to tree removal at the cottage, which Mr Chowney said was done under a planning application which was dealt with normally. There has also been some replanting of trees, he added. He did not have all the details to hand, but said that the application might have been retrospective. Talking about retrospective applications in general, he said: “That’s a perfectly legal thing to do. It’s perfectly legal to build a house and then apply for planning permission afterwards. You have to treat retrospective applications exactly the way that you treat prospective ones, you can’t punish people for putting in a retrospective application.

“It’s a big risk [for the applicant] because if the council say no, you have to knock the house down. If someone cuts down trees, and is then retrospectively refused permission, they have to replant trees.”

Calls for inquiry

What did Mr Chowney think of various calls from MP Amber Rudd and Tory councillors for an inquiry into the planning department? “It’s to do with the run-up to the election, I think,” he said. “You can only hold an inquiry into a planning department where it has been deemed to have failed under certain performance indicators given to the government, and our department has done very well under those, so there would be no grounds for holding a public inquiry. The Tories [councillors] were proposing an internal inquiry, but we had already done one of those. As a result of that, we had drawn up an action plan which was agreed by cabinet, all the actions in which have been carried out, so another internal inquiry would just have been going over the same old ground again.”

The planning department’s performance had been reviewed by the Planning Advisory Service and had come out as a department which worked well, he said. Another review will be carried out next year.

Minor amendments

What about the use of ‘minor amendments,’ which according to critics allow major changes to permitted plans to be approved by planning officials, without scrutiny by councillors, thus saving developers money, while depriving the council of fees? “There are no strict rules about what counts as minor and what requires a new application,” Mr Chowney said. “It’s all down to the discretion of planning officers. There’s a risk that if they say a full planning application is required, and [the developers] appeal that, you could end up paying costs and losing a lot of money. So they have to balance that, decide what they think they can get away with, what won’t be challenged by a planning appeal. In the end you have to leave that to planning officers, they’re the experts on that and that’s what they’re paid for.

“When a developer is doing a very large development, legal fees are a very small part of that, compared with the money they are going to make out of the development. The risk to them is less, because if they lose it, it doesn’t matter that much, because as a total cost of development it’s not that big. If they win it, that could presumably benefit them significantly, but then of course they get their costs awarded as well.

“Planning inspectors didn’t use to award costs to developers except in extreme circumstances, now they are awarding them costs nearly every time, and that’s always going to be in the tens of thousands of pounds. So we can’t afford to lose too many of those.”

Development at all costs?

I put it to Mr Chowney that there is a perception that development takes priority over every other consideration.“Basically it depends what’s in the local plan, which was agreed last year,” he said. “If a site is in the plan for a protected open space, or as an SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest] or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can’t develop it. If it’s land that’s in there for housing development, it’s going to be allowed anyway, if it’s land that’s in there for anything, which quite a lot is – what  are called windfall sites –  then it’s judged on its own merits.

“If you own a bit of land, then the law says you have the right to develop it, you have the right to build on it. The only way to turn it down is if there is something that doesn’t conform with the council’s policies. If it’s a housing application we have policies on design quality, on room size, garden size, and so on. If it conforms to all those things, there’s no reason to turn it down.

“And the fact that 10,000 people say they don’t like it is not grounds for turning it down, that would just get overturned at appeal. If you’ve got one person saying, ‘I don’t like it because it doesn’t comply with this planning policy,’ then that’s fair. A lot of the policies are a matter of judgement – there’s one that is often quoted, about the impact on the local environment, which means the visual environment, and whether it has an adverse impact on the neighbourhood, I can’t remember the exact wording, which is frequently used to turn down an application, and again that is a matter of opinion really.

“So much of the planning law is down to the discretion of officers. That’s why they go to university for four years, they’re not just ticking boxes as to whether a room is this size or that size. It all involves a lot of discretionary judgement. It’s pretty thankless as well, you’re being attacked on all sides, you’ve got developers on one side saying, ‘You’re not doing things quickly enough, you’re not approving this, I’m going to go to the ombudsman,’ and then you’ve got objectors on the other side, attacking you from that side too. Social media make it much more difficult too.”

Sea Change Sussex

Sea Change Sussex seems to have no end of projects involving new business parks and roads to link them without much evidence that they are contributing to the area’s regeneration – what did Mr Chowney think of the company?

“It was Sea Change which brought the university to town, they did the Creative Media Centre, and the Innovation Centre, and what they’ve done involving small starter units has been very successful, the office accommodation in Havelock Road, there is interest in that and it is slowly letting,” he said. “But probably at the moment there isn’t much demand for that kind of high-end office accommodation in Hastings, or anywhere in the south-east for that matter, so they probably won’t be doing much more of that kind of stuff at the moment.

“If you’re going to attract employers to town, you do need empty offices. But at the moment there’s probably enough, there’s Heron House and Ocean House, which are part empty, there is quite a lot of part-let, not empty, but part-let accommodation around town , so you probably don’t need any more at the moment. For the future that might change.

“In terms of North Queensway Business Park, that was not intended to be built on as such, that is plots for people to build manufacturing units on, there’s a couple of businesses, going in there, I think…I’m not on the Sea Change board any more, so I’m not sure where that’s got to. You wouldn’t want to do loads and loads more of that while you’ve still got some, though you’ll always want a bit of a supply of it should people want to come here.

“And to be honest, there isn’t a great deal more space in Hastings to develop for that sort of thing. Now the North Bexhill development is altogether different, and it will be interesting to see how that goes. Glovers House on the link road is already fully let, so there clearly is some demand for that, and of course there is an awful lot more coming there, enough for 3,000 jobs and 2,000 homes? Or 2,000 jobs, I can’t remember which way round it is [3,100 houses and 60,000 sq metres of business space, according to Sea Change]. Enviro 21 – that’s all fully let.”

Road projects

Sea Change's Queensway Gateway road project drew widespread opposition (photo: Combe Haven Defenders).

Sea Change’s Queensway Gateway road project drew widespread opposition (photo: Combe Haven Defenders).

Mr Chowney welcomed the fact that the Queensway Gateway road is now going ahead after a second legal challenge failed. “Since the link road opened, there is a lot more traffic chaos on the western Ridge as people try to get from the link road to the A21 – [the new road] will help because it will allow people to go through from the link road to the A21.

“And the link road – you can drive along Bexhill Road now without any hold-up. We were all pleasantly surprised by the impact the link road has had on Bexhill Road, as everyone was a bit worried that people would keep using Bexhill Road and it wouldn’t make any difference – but it has, it’s made a dramatic difference to the traffic on Bexhill Road. You can now drive along there in 15 minutes instead of an hour and a half.”

Mr Chowney accepted that there was uncertainty in the projections of the number of jobs that will be created or homes built which are used to justify development projects. It all comes with a big ‘if’, he said. But he pointed out that it is not part of the planning department or planning committee’s remit to question these calculations. “Each specific planning application can only take into account the merits of the building as a building,” he said.

“In terms of planning policy, where we’ve allocated land for employment use, or housing use, that’s based on the number of jobs that will be needed, the number of homes that will be needed, so that’s all taken into account in the plan.

“It’s all futurology, we don’t know. The same with traffic flows as well, traffic flows are notoriously difficult to predict. Developers pay lots of money for studies to say how many cars will go this way or that way, but nobody ever really believes them.”

Relations with critics

Is there a disconnect between the Labour group on the council and the critics they have gathered over planning and development issues, some of whom are disenchanted former Labour supporters? Mr Chowney believes the local Labour Party is in touch with the views of local voters through regular canvassing and the fact that it holds a majority on the council gives it legitimacy.

“We’re coming up to the local elections now, we publish a very detailed manifesto, that includes an assessment of how we achieved all the things that were in the manifesto last time, and that’s what people look at and vote on.

“A lot of people will consider that the views that they hold…are automatically held by everybody else, and that’s not necessarily true. I think as the council we probably have a better idea of what people think because we go and knock on doors and talk to them. And not just at election times, we go and do it between elections as well.

“And I don’t think you should be swayed by people saying, ‘No, we don’t want you to do that’ – we were voted in to do that, the programme that we were elected on…You can’t run a council or a government by consulting everybody on everything you do. There are loads of consultations, but in the end they are consultations, they’re not referendums.

“You take the views into account, and consider what your policies are, and you make a judgement based on that. And you’re never going to please everyone all the time. It’s good that there’s a lot of interest, what you wouldn’t want is if no one ever commented on anything, that would be depressing.”

 

Posted 09:22 Wednesday, May 4, 2016 In: Politics

28 Comments


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  1. Martin

    I wrote to Andrew Sells Chairman of Natural England and Director of Linden Homes by email this morning informing him that if he does not deal with the breach of the license under complaint that they decided to create 412, that I would deem this that they could not deal with licenses correctly in our borough. I have given him ten days until I put this all to him in a letter and start a petition to the Government asking people to sign and revoke Natural England’s powers to supply Licenses. I look forward to his reply in which he will outline his action plan that Natural England took in this breach of license as his team have decided that they have acted reasonably in this matter. I am outraged at this.

    Comment by Martin — Saturday, May 7, 2016 @ 12:46

  2. s.goodhand

    heres another 26 of us who are banging on about it ,apart from the 1,300 followers on fb, please mr chowney open your eyes ears and heart , this is immportant

    Comment by s.goodhand — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 23:06

  3. MIchael Madden

    Big chief always speaks with forked tongue.

    He has claimed that the glen is a SSSI because of its unstable geology. If that was true (which it isn’t) why did he not protect it from the expansionist interests of a pair of caravan park owners? By failing to do so HBC were partly to blame and yet they would have earned respect if they had admitted their failures and worked with SEG members to try and put things to rights.

    He now states that this unstable geology meant that HBC could not intervene to save the glen, but this was an unprecedented event of great importance to the economy and the people of Hastings, and there were no other landslip’s anywhere else in the country park. So this also cannot be true.

    Any child can see that the landslip’s width corresponds exactly with the width of the caravan park, and so it must have had something to do with it. Coffey agreed with SEG on this.

    HBC’s manifesto still states that it takes its responsibilities very seriously vis a vis the stewardship oh it’s AONBs and that it invites Hastings people to hold them to account if they see its officers and planners fail in any way. This is all we have tried to do. They have utterly failed to do their real job and what has amazed all of us who have tried to hold them to account is that they would rather spend all their time weaving a web of lies than doing their real job: serving the people of Hastings interests as is their duty as public servants.

    What this two years has proved is that HBC are an unaccountable elite who have no interest in the people of Hastings or in its natural beauty.

    Comment by MIchael Madden — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 21:33

  4. Amanda Nicol

    Chowney needs to make a public apology to the SEG immediately. I for one am immensely grateful to those who have worked tirelessly on this issue over the last few years. Ecclesbourne Glen is a particularly important part of the Country Park being the entrance most used, before the landslip caused by Docklands. It’s a total disgrace that this issue is not being addressed as a matter of urgency. What sort of an advert for Hastings is it that this gateway to an AONB and SSSI is such a heartbreaking mess? There should be at the very least a notice there to indicate what is being done and for how long these beloved pathways will be blocked. It shows a very sad and disturbing lack of respect for what really is of value – and Chowney’s ‘banging on about it’ statement says it all. It’s this sort of attitude that is merrily wrecking our planet. Has he actually had a walk there recently? He needs to know that people still find their way through, but it is actually quite hazardous and someone could get hurt, especially with the fencing and other detritus lying around. Of course if someone did get hurt no one would be blamed other than the walker themselves. Tree loss means habitat loss for many creatures, even if, and I hope there will be remedial planting it will take years to right this wrong. Rocklands’ expansion and the bunker are monuments to human greed and Chowney exemplifies the complicity of the powers that be who still hold profit over people and planet. One day we see that it’s the people who ‘bang on’ about these things are the people who are acting in all our interests. Disgusting comments and very depressing.

    Comment by Amanda Nicol — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 17:18

  5. Barney

    How wonderful that we have proof of what went before Peter Chowney saw fit to denounce the campaingers who are endevouring to protect OUR country park! Now is the time for Mr. Chowney to stand up and defend the evidence presented in Chris Hurrell’s comments. Along with all the other officers who made such grandiose promises at these meetings. What a pity Jeremy Birch left us so suddenly and so unexpectedly because whatever your opinion of this man, he would not renege of any promises made by his party. We are now faced with a man who appears to have no conscience. And this is a very dangerous situation.

    Comment by Barney — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 15:18

  6. chris hurrell

    How times have changed. According to Peter Chowney SEG are now :

    “half a dozen people who bang on about it and are always sending emails”

    Back in 2014 SEG was considered a valued contributor to the process. We submitted detailed documents to the Bahcheli review and met regularly with HBC members and officers. At the Cabinet meeting of 01/12/2014 . SEG was mentioned by many officers and councillors. Our membership levels remain the same now as in 2014.

    The Cabinet meeting resolved to adopt an action plan that would improve planning processes and to carry out investigations into planning and licencing issues at Rocklands. The leader of the council Jeremy Birch also committed to working collaboratively with SEG.

    Since this Cabinet meeting HBC has done absolutely nothing to resolve any of the issues. The glen lies in ruins and no action has been taken against Rocklands for any of the multiple unauthorised developments on the lower slopes. Instead they have spun the line that the action plan has changed the way they work and claim that all is now well.

    Everything changed when Cllr Peter Chowney became leader of the council. We have not been able to meet with any HBC officers since June 2015. Since then all paths of communication have been closed down by HBC. HBC officers and Labour councillors are now simply refusing to answer our emails. SEG are now dismissed as vexatious when we make Freedom of Information requests.

    HBC have now stigmatized SEG. Labour councillors jeered and hissed whenever SEG’s name was mentioned at a recent council meeting. Labour have tried to write us off as Tory stooges and we have been falsely accused of being Tory thugs, racism and running a hate campaign by members of the party. Councillors have made several unsubstantiated allegations including trespassing on Rocklands property and issuing death threats.

    The following quotes from the Cabinet meeting of 01/12/2014 show the dramatic change in attitude since Cllr Chowney became leader.

    Cllr John Hodges – Cabinet member
    ———————————

    “I was very pleased to hear the very comprehensive report given by the Director of Planning and I especially welcome his remarks and the additional remarks. Listening to them it does not come any surprise that the number of mistakes made over the caravan park that have come to light during this investigation. They go back many years they have not just happened. For that information we have the group dedicated to saving Ecclesbourne Glen to thank for pointing out these many shortcomings, they have done a really good analytical job.”

    “I am happy that the Cabinet report not only contains recommendations with professional input but also recognizes the value and considerable contribution made by the group whose one objective is to preserve Ecclesbourne Glen and its surrounding countryside for the citizens of Hastings and generations yet to come. It is a right that all these voices are heard and are subsequently acted upon to deliver natural justice as our citizens are entitled to in respect of one of the finest country parks in these islands.”

    Cllr Dawn Poole – Cabinet member
    ——————————–

    “As a council we are really proud of our Country Park, Hasting Country park won a green flag year on year for the work that has been done there so it is important that we do listen to what has happened and accept the recommendations and carry on working to maintain our Country Park and the awards that we keep on winning.”

    Cllr Jeremy Birch – Leader of the Council
    —————————————–

    “We all agree the five point plan in terms of path, enforcement of planning application, TPO, fresh investigation into the landslip. Everybody agrees it is the correct thing to do immediately and is being done and obviously the Save Ecclesbourne Glen committee agree the recommendations of the Bahcheli report which are the essence of Simon Hubbard’s report to us today.

    So I hope we can say what has happened has happened, we can all now agree the same way forward and collaboratively work to make sure that it is introduced both to protect what we all care about and to improve the way in which the council conducts its planning processes so we can avoid difficulties and problems like this in the future.

    OK Thanks for that can I therefore move the recommendation that Mr Hubbard has presented to us , can I just amend it very marginally to add “and to agree the responses in appendix 2”. What this means is that the 43 recommendations of the SEG – all have a response to them some of which are already covered in the report or in 1 or 2 cases not allowable by planning law or in some cases accepting these points as they are perfectly reasonable. We accept the directors’ responses to the SEG recommendations. So I will move that.”

    Richard Homewood – Director Environment
    —————————————

    “On drainage we have seen the results provided to us and we are keen to investigate that as well and I said we will visit the site ourselves to investigate the sources of pollution, assess it further and if necessary arrange to meet the SEG Group on site to find out exactly the issues they have.”

    Simon Hubbard – Director Planning
    ———————————

    “In addition there are recommendations around the geotechnical survey which will now take place in terms of the landslide and SEG will meet with the consultants who are doing that work to make sure that their concerns are heard.

    We have had responses from SEG to the environment report and to the planning reports and whilst the recommendations of the report were supported they called for stronger action and they made their own list of 43 recommendations that were attached to the back – those are responded to under appendix 2.”

    Comment by chris hurrell — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 12:23

  7. Barney

    Andrew Stefaniszyn has written a very concise and accurate description of what is happening here.

    Shame on Chowney – shame on this man indeed. I bet the planning officers are having a really good day up in their ‘bullet proof’ offices. Lord Peter Chowney has proclaimed there invincibility. They are always right. Must not question these experts who have spent four years at University. Laughable. And where is our MP? Too busy climbing up the ladder of promotion to bother about the hoi polloi in this town? And it will get worse now the election results show that residents in this town have voted to retain this rabble.

    Comment by Barney — Friday, May 6, 2016 @ 08:31

  8. Andrew Stefaniszyn

    I read this article this way. The one point that comes over loud and clear, is Chowney is not going to risk any costs in addressing any challenges to council planning decisions and the council is also going to do its best to avoid any contentious issues. In other words, HBC is going to surrender its powers to regulate developments to anyone who is prepared question what they are doing. He did allude to one qualification. It did matter if the developer had deep pockets, so it seems ok to bully those of us that don’t have resources or money. To avoid direct responsibility for this, he is happy to delegate what powers he can to his officers who know what they are doing because they went to “university for four years”. The excuse of course, is the council does not have the money to do their job properly. It’s like the police saying that they cannot control crime as the criminals are too good at it and despite all the officers they employ, they can do nothing. It is all a nonsense of course. Rather than wave the white flag of surrender, perhaps he should reflect on two points. One is, if his staff were competent, the risk involved in dealing with planning issues is small. Councils are still in a strong position. His staff just need to do their job properly. The other, is management is always a problem of limited and inadequate resources and HBC do employ people paid to do the job. Good managers make it happen and others make up excuses. Perhaps the real issue is, is that he and his cabinet are incapable of managing the planning department properly or when faced with risk, Chowney ducks it.

    Comment by Andrew Stefaniszyn — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 18:06

  9. Quintus

    The culpable complacency shown by Cllr Chowney here is breathtaking. His statements about the constitution are simply untrue. If all decisions on tree works are dealt with by officers, why did the application for ‘various tree works’ for Beauport Holiday Park (ref HS/TP/15/ 00591) go to Committee last September?

    As for stating ‘The constitution doesn’t allow for the planning committee to be involved’ — that is false. It does. The proposals to treat the current Rocklands tree works case (ref HS/TP/16/00089) under ‘delegated powers’ is an insult to local democracy. Many objectors have explained why.

    The record of HBC planning department is long and shameful. Cllr Chowney smugly defends it and its decision-making behind closed doors. What have HBC got to hide? Elsewhere in the Council’s constitution is the Planning Protocol, that includes the principle that ‘Planning decisions should be made openly, impartially, with sound judgement and for justifiable reasons’.

    So why aren’t they?

    Comment by Quintus — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 11:18

  10. DAR

    Like S.Goodman,I shall (unusually) vote Tory today because my local Tory councillor has made it his first manifesto commitment to campaign to stop any housing development (140 houses) on the (publicly-owned) Harrow Lane Playing Fields. Any more development in The Ridge area can only add to vastly-increased traffic flows (and therefore air pollution)caused by the opening of the BHLR. Chowney’s interview typifies the disconnection between a lot of councillors and their constituents.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 11:09

  11. Ollie Watson

    Why would anyone want to vote to re-instate this Council after reading this article and the comments of their Leader.

    Comment by Ollie Watson — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 09:17

  12. Lynne Okines

    I find Councillor Chowney’s comments patronising, unjustified and in fact downright outrageous under the circumstances. The Rocklands debacle has been rumbling on for over two years and is no nearer to its conclusion. In this time we have had two retrospective planning applications to try and regularise a holiday let building that is now without planning permission, and is awaiting a decision on its fate from the Inspectorate.

    We have had two retrospective planning applications to regularise solar panels that were installed without planning permission. The solar panels are now ‘stored’ within the amenity area of the caravan park and are fully connected to the main house. Mr Chowney states that if the holiday let building is allowed to stay then the owners of the caravan park can apply to put them on the roof of the building. The solar panels have been refused planning permission in the area that they are now ‘stored’ and are the subject of an enforcement notice, but according to the owners they can ‘store’ the solar panels for up to six months as they are ‘temporary structures’.

    The owners obtained a ‘Certificate of Lawful Use’ in respect of a storage unit that was surprisingly built without planning permission. The Council ignored the evidence that the building was in breach of planning control, and allowed the four year rule to apply, when it should have been ten years. The Council waited until the four year period had expired before inviting the caravan park owners to apply for a ‘CLEUD’.

    The owners of the caravan park were allowed to cut down trees in order to install more caravans in an area that expressly forbade the siting of caravans, cars and tents, because the planning department/enforcement office did not bother to check whether there were any planning conditions that prevented their removal. A statement was made, much like the one from Councillor Chowney, ‘that the owners can do what they liked on their own land!’

    It is the belief of the people of Hastings, and not just the six that ‘keep banging on about it’, that it was the removal of trees, installation of man-made terracing for unauthorised caravans and their associated infrastructure that was a contributing factor of the landslide – this has been confirmed by the Council’s geotechnical experts. The Council still has not issued a new site licence after over 18 months of negotiations with the owners of the caravan park.

    It has been stated that the owners be asked to contribute to the cost of any remedial works to determine the cause of the landslide and to contribute to the restoration of the Glen as part of their licence. It is also said that the owners should be asked to submit a tree replanting scheme – this has not materialised and there is now a planning application on the table at the moment to remove more trees, some of which are within the landslipped area and others that are on the ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’. One tree is to be removed, whose only crime is that it is growing at a jaunty angle. Rocklands’ geotechnical expert nearly fell over laughing when it was suggested that it was subject to subsidence, which is the reason that Rocklands have put forward for its removal.

    The caravans have been removed from the lower slopes, but the infrastructure remains. The unauthorised road causes a funneling affect when it rains, and the area beneath the road is now the only area that remains continuously wet, even in dry weather. The land continues to slip, but it is of no concern to the Council as it is only six people, and a friend of Bob Okines, that are concerned about the fate of Ecclesbourne Glen and our Country Park.

    According to Councillor Chowney no crime has been committed and the owners can legally build first and ask for planning permission later. I think that Mr Chowney misses the point as the owners of Rocklands have breached numerous planning conditions and site licence conditions in order to build their unauthorised structures. The owners of the caravan park have had four attempts at getting planning permission for the ‘bunker’ and have had two bites of the ‘retrospective cherry’.

    The six people that ‘keep banging on about Rocklands’ are members of ‘Save Ecclesbourne Glen Campaign Groups’ committee and have been elected as representatives for the people of Hastings. The Council has restricted communications with the Council through a single point of contact, and will not accept communications other than through their written instructions on dealing with communications that they consider ‘vexatious’. The reason that the communications is considered ‘vexatious’ is because people keep ‘banging’ on about issues that relate to Rocklands and will not go away.

    Councillor Chowney seems to exude a fear of developers’ appealing planning decisions made by planning officers, his statement that the planning officers have to decide what they think that the developer can get away with, without challenging their decision at appeal, flies in the face of democracy and shows that there is a fear that if the developer does not get their 95% increase in floor space that they will challenge the decision at an appeal. Therefore, it is left to the discretion of the officer on what can and cannot be classed as a ‘minor material amendment’; measured on the likelihood on whether the applicant will appeal, and not whether it meets with local and governmental policies and other material considerations. The Council has written guidelines of a 10% increase for ‘minor material amendments’ but has approved applications that far exceed their own guidelines. It is stated that the process is to be scrapped, as it is too restrictive for the developer.

    If decisions made were sound, and were refused for the right reasons, then there would be less likelihood that the developer would appeal, and even if they did appeal there is no guarantee that the Inspector would overturn the Council’s decision. Costs are only awarded if one of the parties is seen to have been behaving unreasonably and are not given as a bonus to the developer.

    Councillor Chowney seems to have total disregard and contempt for the people of Hastings who have shown their displeasure at an inappropriate development that has affected their enjoyment of the Country Park, but ends his interview with the statement ‘It’s good that there’s a lot of interest, what you wouldn’t want is if no one ever commented on anything that would be depressing.’ So if Councillor Chowney is interested in local views then why does he not engage with the people of Hastings instead of ignoring their concerns?

    Comment by Lynne Okines — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 09:09

  13. Chris

    I am sure that the two Councillors recently deceased, Councillor Jeremy Birch and John Hodges would be turning over in their graves at the utter disrespect you Chowney have for the people of Hasting and St Leonards.
    Both men were held in the highest respect irrespective of political persuasion and listened to the people with regard to Rocklands.

    Comment by Chris — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 08:17

  14. Barney

    Chowney appears to have lost the plot big time here. He not only insults and patronizes the Rocklands campaigners, he pretends to know little about the workings of the Sea Change quango – has he forgotten he was not so long ago, a director of this ‘company’ – has he lost his memory about his input into this failed and expensive quango?

    This interview says a lot about this man and it is patently clear he is not fit to hold the position of Leader of this council – time for him to go. And the farthest the better for this town. Things have changed here. Democracy is the name of the game now. Viva Hastings!

    Comment by Barney — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 08:07

  15. Richard Heritage

    Talk about arrogance. Boy if that were money Cllr. Chowney would be a millionaire from what I have read here. For a start the Rocklands scenario is one HBC has continually done their utmost to play down as there is a litany of errors and what I would suggest as “favouritism” when you look at what the owners have got away with over the past years.
    Then he has to gall to say the planning officers are professionals. The only professional part I can see is they get paid to make the gaffs they do. How professional was it for Sam Batchelor in the planning department to give the Bunker permission and his boss RAy Crawford to give it the nod.
    And as for planning policies Cllr. Chowney they have frequently been ignored. There are a plethora of examples out there around the borough. One in particular I can think of where some three planning policies were totally ignored is the town house on Gillsmans Hill, that has the sobriquet “The Quirky House.” And it got this label as when it got a delegated permission, the planning officer said although it did not fit in with the area it was “quirky.”
    Then we have the application for the convent where the developers were using the “Enabling Development” ticket. A type of planning application where you are not going to make a profit but only enough to restore/maintain buildings on the same site – usually listed ones. But here there was a clear massive profit going to be made. When challenged about this, Tim Cookson the past head of planning told me it was a “Sort of Enabling Development.” So my point is Cllr. Chowney without rolling out more examples, tell me more about these professionals in the planning department.
    Finally what is all this gaff about Labour councillors or members knocking on doors to talk to people and not just at election times. I lived in Burton St.Leonards for nine years right round the corner from Cllr. Chowney and I can reliably say I never ever had anybody from the Labour Party come to my door and talk to me about the borough. Any other readers here had knocks on their door from this caring political party?
    Judging from what I have read, he needs an Alister Campbell to help him out with the media.

    Comment by Richard Heritage — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 08:01

  16. Martin

    Andrea Needham . Its far more worse than you think . You should take a look at the Council Historical minutes “The Council” is a member of both these organisations not just the Leader who left reccently his position. Important words. I to believe it is the Councillors position to challenge the officers why do we not see this happening. It would be interesting to see the number of petitions or motions raised by Councillors. If any of the Councillors asked about voting in Speckled Wood area Tressel they would have been told firmly that they are fed up with signing petitions when the Councillors dont take action and no they should not be developing Speckled Wood, yet the fight continues and the Officers make a mockery of the rules of our country and are unchallenged by democracy.

    Comment by Martin — Thursday, May 5, 2016 @ 07:34

  17. Andrea Needham

    Given that Peter Chowney used to be on the SeaChange board, his apparent lack of knowledge about the company’s activities is somewhat surprising. A few points:

    1. He says, ‘Enviro 21 – that’s all fully let’. In fact, SeaSpace (as it then was, but under the same director as SeaChange, John Shaw) never built half the units they had planned, and if you go there now you’ll see that alongside the existing units there’s a huge empty space. We were promised 500 jobs: what we actually got (and this is being generous as some are part time) was 24 – this number is based on going around the three units that are there, plus the Sussex Exchange, and asking all the companies how many jobs they had created by moving to that site (see http://hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/hot-topics/home-ground/enviro-21.

    2. He says that North Queensway ‘was not intended to be built on as such’, which is fortunate since three and a half years after SeaChange was given £5.5m in public money for the venture, there’s not a great deal to show for it. East Sussex County Council claimed in 2012 that the site would create 865 jobs (SeaChange was a little less optimistic, claiming a mere 700). The job creation figure to date is: zero. SeaChange recently made a great song and dance about having found one occupier for the site: what they failed to say was that the company in question is simply moving from another site in Hastings, and creating no new jobs.

    3. He admits that there is a certain amount of empty office space in the town centre, but says it is ‘slowly letting’. As far as I’m aware, a great deal of the vast new office spaces built by SeaChange over the past few years (Lacuna Place, Havelock Place) are empty. Plans to knock down Queensbury House and build yet more office space appear to have been quietly shelved. Several people have told me that the rent on the SeaChange offices is far too high.

    Over the past 15 years, SeaSpace and SeaChange have been given tens of millions of pounds of public money to build new roads, new offices, new industrial estates. Time and again, the projects have failed, at least in terms of the promises of job creation. Yet what happens? SeaChange moves on to the next project, and sucks up some more public money. As far as I’m aware (and I’m happy to be corrected) not one elected councillor of any party has ever asked any kind of searching public question about the activities of this company. That Peter Chowney thinks there is no problem with this utter lack of transparency and accountability is worrying. I hope that if we get some new councillors tomorrow, a few of them will have the backbone to stand up and ask some very serious questions about this company.

    (if you want to know more about what SeaChange would rather you didn’t know, go to http://seachangesussex.info/)

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 22:34

  18. John Faulkner

    Although now living in Hastings I was previously a councillor in another local authority. I can not believe his complaceny or his utter dependence on the views of the officers. The officers are the professional but a Councillor is there to challenge their views on behalf of local residents – what is the point of him being there?

    Comment by John Faulkner — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 21:22

  19. Barney

    Peter Chowneys comments are an insult to the hundreds of local residents who have endeavoured to protect OUR country park from these irresponsible caravan site owners. HBC are supposed to be the custodians of this special park and for the Leader of our council to treat this in such a cavalier manner is beyond comprehension. How dare he try to play down public opinion and insult all those who have worked so hard for so long in order to try and protect this special place. Now we have positive confirmation that this council isn’t that bothered about anything to do with this caravan site.

    Chris Hurrell sums it all up very well – Peter Chowney certainly has shown his true colours here – one can only hope that the electorate teaches him and his cohorts a serious lesson tomorrow.

    Comment by Barney — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 20:25

  20. JBK

    All seems a bit sh*t to me. Lightweight, disinterested and dreary. Might be in a recession and grants cut, but the advice is always to keep hold of your assets, make them work for you and generate and keep as much hard currency as possible. Once an asset is sold it is gone, and no more income or revenue can be made from it. Council making bad decisions which will be permanent.

    Comment by JBK — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 20:14

  21. Martin

    I understand this as I have been fighting since 2012 to save my local Woodland Speckled Wood without any credit from anyone. There have always been a lot of campaigners helping thankfully.

    You start to feel a little underappreciated after the first three years. The Council stating they have saved it “It’s wonderful that we have been able to save Speckled Wood from Development”. I don’t think we are being told all the facts. I wasn’t wrong about that in 2012 either was I?

    Several facts come to mind, the so called Decision by the Inspector or should i be better to be saying the decision by culbert was in May 2015 Well hello its May again Why is the Leader of the Council only now talking about CPO powers and what have they done in a year since this time. Well they asked someone to look at the knotweed on their own land in Speckled Wood to see if it was contaminated. I presume they might want to build on it or sell it to be built on. That’s about it as far as I have bene told. Wonders why there is some information now.

    Comment by Martin — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 20:11

  22. Marine court

    The man is delusional ! The officials at HBC need to be colectively sacked. Take a look at the cock up of publishing the totally and I mean totally incorrect food standards ratings for establishments in the old town.

    Comment by Marine court — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 19:58

  23. chris hurrell

    The phrase “banging on about it” tells you everything you need to know about Cllr Chowney’s attitude to the Rocklands affair and campaigners. He clearly has deep contempt for both the issues and those members of the public who have spent two years campaigning to save the Glen.

    I am a member of SEG and have wasted the last two years trying to negotiate and inform those in power about the issues at Rocklands and Ecclesbourne Glen. We have been treated like idiots, lied to and what few promises made by HBC have been reneged upon. It is clear that HBC never had any intention of ever taking any action to resolve the issues.

    The contempt that Cllr Chowney and the Labour party have for SEG i clear in this article. Labour councillors have openly hissed and jeered at a full council meeting whenever SEG’s name was mentioned. HBC now decree that SEG cannot write to Labour councillors directly.

    HBC commissioned an “independent ” review of the Rocklands affair which essentially whitewashed the actions of council officers. A Planning Improvement Plan was implemented to prevent a repeat of the Rocklands debacle. Unfortunately this plan has not been implemented and most of the improvements have not been done. Despite this Cllr Chowney now insists that all is now well with our planning department.

    Cllr Chowney has shown that he does not understand any of the issues, completely fails to listen to members of the public and has total misplaced trust and confidence in his officers. His hubristic attitude spits in the face of democracy.

    The reason so few write to HBC is because we were asked to correspond using a single contact point. Only members of the SEG committe have corresponded with HBC. The strength of public opinion should be gauged by the number of objections to Rocklands applications. Both retro bunker applications attracted well over 450 objections – not many planning issues attract this level of attention. Even a tree application has attracted over 50 objections and a petition of 100 names – this is unheard of for tree applications.
    SEG has 1300 facebook members and our picnics attracted 250+ people and our last public meeting attracted 70+ people. Not the half dozen Cllr Chowney claims at all.

    One must also question his political judgement – why make such a controversial inaccurate statement just before the local elections?

    I have no hope at all that anything will be done to save the Glen whilst Cllr Chowney remains leader of the council. He has now made that abundantly clear in his comments to the HOTTIE. We have wasted 2 years of our lives trying to inform and negotiate with people who never had the slightest intention of taking any action. Throughout this period they have taken us as idiots, lied dissembled and reneged on the few promises they made. They are beneath contempt.

    The Labour Manifesto claims it will work with local people to re-open the footpaths in the glen. I consider this to be spin and a complete lie – they have no intention of doing anything at all.

    Comment by chris hurrell — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 19:49

  24. ken davis

    I have, as a former Labour Party member, a more detailed response to this sort of political nonsense in the pipeline but in essence Chowney is right: they have the mandate, so people who are really wound up about the inefficiencies and errors made by ‘the planners’ (councillors and officers) can vote this lot out. They may, however, just get the Tories back and I do not ever remember them refusing much!The fact is that the planning system itself is useless and needs complete overhaul but there is scope for local planners to reinforce the system with better design guidance rather than policies which are open to interpretation by personal taste.

    Comment by ken davis — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 19:44

  25. s.goodhand

    mr chowney never ever listens, to the people who clearly love the country park.quite unbelievable,and very sad,1300 stand for nothing in his eyes, for the first time in 45 years i will be voting CONSERVATIVE.

    Comment by s.goodhand — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 19:37

  26. Bob Okines

    Mr Chowney.

    Have you totally lost touch with reality?

    I cannot believe you can state here that The Rocklands debacle is not contraversial.
    HBC have asked SEG to ensure that all correspondence is passed through a central point. We speak on behalf of possibly thousands of concerned local (and even international) residents and visitors.

    I find your comments quite absurd!

    Comment by Bob Okines — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 19:24

  27. Martin

    Does not our Leader mean that Minor Amendments are a way of developers not paying the Council for a Full Aplication and therefore defrauding the public from the full revenue? I understand it is the Councils obligation to persue debts but it seems if you are a developer this is overlooked. Are we not loosing revenue anyway which is not being persued again if you are a developer. He said that this determination of whether a planning item is a minor amendment or not was made by the current Planning committee is this not the problem, surely it should be made by the rules that underpin the Town and County Planning Act and the Council Constitution that governs it.

    Is not Mr Chowney aware of a complaint with Natural England , which is with two Area managers and the Chair of Natural England Mr. Andrew Sells in relation to the deaths of protected species on this Queensway Gateway Site in manmade devises. Or does he think this is completely reasonable . I would hope not as his Vote Labour leaflet suggest he has a degree in microbiology and therefore some interest in Natural science and its protection and welfare.

    Does not our Leader mean that Minor Amendments are a way of developers not paying the Council for a Full Application and therefore defrauding the public from the full revenue? I understand it is the Councils obligation to pursue debts but it seems if you are a developer this is overlooked are we not losing revenue anyway which is not being perused again if you area developer.

    Is not Mr. Chowney aware of a complaint with Natural England in relation to the deaths of protected species on this Queensway Gateway Site in manmade devices? Or does he think this is completely reasonable. I would hope not as his Vote Labor leaflet suggests he has a degree in microbiology and therefore some interest in Natural science and its protection and welfare.

    I could go on but I would probably be listed as one of Mr. Chowney’s complainers as we do correspond by email. The funny thing is all I ever wanted was for the Council to do things correctly and follow the rules. Not just the ones when it suits. A case example of this transpired yesterday. A JCB was brought in to Speckled Wood onto five sites to dig 1m3 holes. During these digging activities it should be noted that several of these sites are in the middle of an invasive species Japanese Knotweed. There was no wheel washing observed of this vehicle when it departed and drove up Church Street without thought for what it was carrying on its tracts. The enforcement team visited the site and said the work was undertaken by a reputable organization and would not look into the matter further is this not a double standard or is this because this organization has at least two councilors in it. The contractor said these test holes 1m3 where need to place a wheel chair access in to the woodland. The interesting thing is that these five sites are in odd parts of the woodland Speckled Wood and not in a straight line and not in the direction of the route teh contractor was implying this footpath would take . I was told that Murray Davidson was aware of this but failed again to complain that this work was done in the bird nesting season and the badger breading season.

    Even more interesting Our leader wants Speckled Wood to be held in trust for the public yet his organization who he said he is working with seems to want to dig it up.

    The funny thing is before the Friends of Speckled Wood Management Trust got involved in 2012 what this organization wanted to do and voted at a round table was to offer it to developers apart from a thin strip in the middle. At least this has changed or has it?

    I really do ponder why you need to dig 1m3 down to decide if a footpath can go on the site.

    Am not sure why this is in politics and not Homegrown

    Comment by Martin — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 18:57

  28. anna newington

    I am shocked by the untrue nature of what is being said by Chowney in this article.

    Comment by anna newington — Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 18:51

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