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 The unauthorised Bunker, a blot on Ecclesbourne Glen and the Country Park (photo: Richard Alfred Moye/Ram Photographic).

The unauthorised Bunker and, to its right, the unauthorised array of solar panels (photo: Richard Alfred Moye/Ram Photographic).

Unauthorised developments at caravan park exercise minds at protest group’s meeting

The Save Ecclesbourne Glen group had its annual general meeting last Sunday (15 November), and explained its work to concerned local people. The retrospective planning case on solar panels is part of a much bigger picture. Will the Bunker really be demolished next spring?  Can the situation get worse? Bernard McGinley observed.

A full room of people at the White Rock Hotel heard the peculiar history of Rocklands caravan park and its planning applications. Bob Okines gave a long and detailed briefing (co-prepared with Lynne Okines), with compelling and revelatory details. Among the illustrations was a series of Google Earth photos from 2004, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2015, showing the commercial development of the site.

The landslips that have ruined Ecclesbourne Glen were discussed — and the accumulation of fencing, barbed wire and rubbish (batteries, asbestos, etc) amounting to a health hazard. Various matters were cited and explained, such as new concrete at Rocklands, a lack of drainage, and no lack of inaction by Hastings Borough Council (HBC). Unauthorised tree-felling, and the ‘storage building’ (planning ref HS/EX/15/00517) that was treated unusually regarding a Certificate of Lawful Use (CLU) were part of a wider picture.

Other apparent abuses of the site licence and of the council’s supervisory regime were pointed out. With abundant evidence it was explained that this was about far more than a retrospective application for solar panels beside the Bunker. The panels were not the minor matter they might seem: there was strong evidence that a second ledge for caravans was in preparation, on the lower slopes of the caravan park.  (The sites can be seen here from a bird’s eye view.)

HBC’s position was that the stability of the land was such as to make the future of that land uncertain — and yet there are no known plans for a further study.  (Possibly this was a matter of apprehensiveness about what would be revealed.)

 Cllr Atkins speaking at the meeting.

Cllr Atkins speaking at the meeting.

No Labour councillors were able to be present at the meeting, and no HBC officers.  Cllr Liam Atkins for the Conservatives said that there was low morale in the planning department (unsurprisingly, some felt) and a review was necessary, via MP Amber Rudd and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. A petition to No 10 was another possibility, he said. He added that he would put questions on Rocklands to the council on borough residents’ behalf, and was exploring the possibility of councillors visiting the caravan park.

Beyond question the council is in adversity over this set of related planning cases.  How could they have allowed the Bunker, when it is the same as a previously refused application?  The council’s own report on case HS/FA/12/00952  said: “This application follows refusal HS/FA/12/00471 for the same proposal.”

If the planning inspector finds accordingly, then the Bunker could as a consequence come down three months after his or her decision in January — though that may seem strangely optimistic given all that has happened to date.

Panels reflect badly on the planners
Planning permission for the ‘retention’ of solar panels at Rocklands is now being sought. Some present felt that another retrospective application from this source was an abuse of the planning system. Historic England (formerly English Heritage) have already suggested that the treatment of the scheduled ancient monument at Rocklands makes the matter a crime: under Section 28 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 the punishment for damage could be prison and a large fine.

The High Weald AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Unit are also dissatisfied with the treatment of the ancient monument, suggesting a breach of National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 132, which states that any harm or loss should require clear and convincing justification. Here there is none.

Others say that in addition the ground-level panels and the cabling and trenching are a clear safety hazard, especially for holidaying children.

Don Wise, veteran president of the Hastings Badger Protection Society, stated how he had reported the effluent at Rocklands in 1975. As someone who had known Major Sayer (owner and donor of much of what became the Country Park), he was sure that the major would have been horrified at the state of the Country Park today.

As part of the Save Ecclesbourne Glen group’s annual general meeting, resolutions were passed calling for:

•  a reassessment of the caravan park site
•  a geotechnical survey
•  effective enforcement of planning permissions
•  a rescreening programme of tree-planting
•  a schedule for remedial actions regarding the landslips.

Comments can still be made on the solar panels case (planning ref HS/FA/15/00528) until 4 December, to the council at:

After accountability
The meeting was notably civil, even as it heard of repeated foot-dragging and inaction by HBC in the matter of Rocklands. (Cllr Atkins’ report of expected hostility was also laughed at.) The consensus was the need for publicity for this badly administered area and cause, and for pressure on all concerned, with a view to achieving redress and an inquiry.

Answers have been scarcer than questions, to date. The planning inspector will hear the Bunker case on Wednesday 20 January 2016 at the Stade Hall. It is understood that members of the public can attend. Technically this is an appeal against the enforcement notice that followed rejection on 4 March of retrospective planning application HS/FA/14/01036 (Retention of holiday let building [with reduction to balcony area to the dimensions permitted by HS/FA/12/00952] and access ramp, etc) — but the Country Park remains vulnerable whatever happens.

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Posted 09:32 Monday, Nov 23, 2015 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

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    Rocklands have consistently broken regulations regarding Dumping of Refuse, Planning, and Health and safety, for a number of years. HBC has been extremely negligent in it’s lack of enforcement and inspection, all resulting in the detriment of the Country Park. It’s time to call a halt to this, and ensure that the damage done is repaired (if at all possible),and fines etc imposed.

    Comment by R EDMUNDS — Monday, Nov 23, 2015 @ 21:46

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