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South Saxons Wetlands - site of another planning battleground (photo: Ian David Baker).

South Saxons Wetlands a new battlefield

Open space is at a premium in West St Leonards – one reason why local residents are up in arms in opposition a proposed new housing development on the South Saxons Wetlands. There are other reasons too, as Bernard McGinley reports.  An Open Day will be held by West St Leonards Community Association on Monday 2 March.

West St Leonards doesn’t have much in the way of open spaces, so proposals for 112 dwellings on one of its few big spaces are provoking dissatisfaction. A 60-unit Extra Care scheme is proposed, together with “up to” 42 general needs dwellings and 10 retirement houses.

The space in question is part of the former West St Leonards Primary School site, known as the South Saxons Playing Fields, where Filsham Road meets Bexhill Road.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) is the developer, in collaboration with AmicusHorizon, the Croydon-based housing association who have done work in the Seven Streets near Pevensey Road, St Leonards. The two parties are also working together at the Orangery in Sidley, an Extra Care development due to open next year.

The West St Leonards Community Association is campaigning to oppose the proposals. Among the concerns is that the community centre is to be lost, as well as the land. A ‘community hub’ (two small rooms) is on offer within the proposed new residential complex, but it is not feasible for it to have the flexibility (in evening use, for instance) or space of the old centre. War-gaming and Alzheimer’s are largely incompatible. Back in 2004 Nick Wates Associates did a report for the Hastings Trust on the lack of facilities in West St Leonards, usefully titled Towards a New Community Centre, which pointed out uncertainty and blight. Unfortunately that still remains.

South Saxons Wetlands: an "urban oasis," according to David Bellamy (photo: Ian David Baker).

Some regret the potential loss of the Local Wildlife Site (the former South Saxons Site of Nature Conservation Importance), in large part the result of years of voluntary effort by local people who have worked hard for the preservation and enhancement of the area. The range of species to be found here is wide.

Flooding is another concern. A scrutiny of the reedbed habitats in the area would show that the fear of flooding – or increased flooding – is well-based. (There’s a reason the area is called ‘wetlands’.) Why build here? Since the Conqueror waded ashore – reputedly at the site of Bulverhythe Fish & Chips shop – this place has never been built on. Assurances are wanted, rather than heroic assumptions and a disregard of previous building mistakes in the borough.

Some of the community anxieties are predictable – but no less real for that: the negative effect on local schools and surgeries, traffic and parking problems, and increased air pollution. Even the developer’s own consultant acknowledges “unacceptable” methane seepage.

Additionally the site is known to have an anthrax problem from the burial of infected cattle there during World War Two. Unfortunately, exploratory drilling has failed to establish where. Deeper investigation may be required – but even if the actual sites are confirmed, there remains the possibility that anthrax would leach into the water table. Those at risk could include construction workers as well as residents and visitors. And this could last well into the future – Professor Jeanne Guillemin, author of Anthrax, is of the view that infected meat can have actively dangerous effects for at least 70 years. Others say spores are virulent for far longer, and that the chemicals used to deal with them are in turn a danger to wildlife and people.

The loss of green space is particularly contentious, as there is comparatively little of it in this part of the borough. Asda was refused planning permission for an “out-of-centre foodstore” on the site in December 1998 for reasons including:

“4. Although the land is currently not used as playing fields, the use of the land in the manner proposed deprives the local community of an opportunity for informal recreation.”

And for good measure the next paragraph quoted from the Local Plan Review Consultation Document 1996:

“If buildings are to be demolished and redevelopment is proposed, any scheme should seek to create a more open view up the valley from Bexhill Road. In addition the potential for improving footpath links through the area should be fully considered.”

Instead, a local footbridge was closed, supposedly for health and safety reasons.  Further north, to discourage dog-walkers in the grounds of St Leonards Academy, on 23 February HBC approved the building of a 2.4 metre high metal fence (ref. HS/FA/14/01034). The sense of the valley as a space to be in and around is under threat. The view of St Ethelburga’s Church in St Saviour’s Road is to be ended.

No one disputes that the vulnerable and infirm need provision, but ESCC’s proposed use of the land has been called into question. Is a site between two busy main roads, with known water hazards, suitable for frail, elderly people? Are there are not spaces in Rother and Wealden, say, that could be used by the county council?

Since 1826, when it was Filsham Racecourse, this has been a recreational space for local people. The loss of the playing fields is particularly regretted by those local people who feel that their existing facilities are meagre enough as it is.

This hybrid application and the debate about its suitability or otherwise still has some way to go.

 

To explain their points of view and hear those of others, West St Leonards Community Association is holding an Open Day on Monday 2 March at the community centre in Bexhill Road, from 2pm to 7pm.

An online petition has been started for local residents opposed to the scheme. Comments on the application (HS/FA/15/00076) can be registered on the HBC website probably for another couple of weeks, the planning department tells HOT.

 

Posted 11:54 Friday, Feb 27, 2015 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

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  1. paddy stephenson

    We visited the Open Day on Monday and were appalled to see precisely what will be lost – incredible photographs were on display – photographs illustrating the plethora of wildlife and flora on this site. Heartbreaking to think that all this beautiful flora and fauna will be destroyed for ever. Heartbreaking to know that the campaigners endeavouring to protect this important wetland site are up against the famous three: ESCC – HBC and Amicus Horizon. Clearly the name ‘horizon’ is a misnomer – there will be no horizon if this inappropriate development is granted planning consent.

    As the author of this report states, surely there is other available land for this project? Why is Hastings subject to so much inappropriate development with the subsequent loss of our valued green spaces. One really has to question this…Hastings is a small town and our green spaces and woodlands are so important – gradually we are losing so much of this amenity. It is nothing less than shameful and we cannot sit back and allow this to happen. We have to stop this developoment.

    Comment by paddy stephenson — Wednesday, Mar 4, 2015 @ 09:47

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