Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photo Bernard McGinley

Photo Bernard McGinley

Fewer trees, more visible ‘Bunker’

The Hastings Country Park controversies rumble loudly on. Some things don’t change (such as the ‘Bunker’ being impermissibly still there after all these years). Others do, including the range of grievances and the threatened increasing visibility of the ‘Bunker’. Bernard McGinley reports.

While Hastings looks forward to many new visitors this summer, none are likely to get across to Ecclesbourne Glen, as the path remains blocked due to the landslips of recent years. What’s caused the landslips? One geotechnical report shows the need for further assessment, something that is yet to happen. However, some of the cause has been attributed to unauthorised development at Rocklands Caravan Park (which adjoins the Country Park), poor site drainage, manmade terracing and significant tree loss within the caravan park.

Now Rocklands – a privately-owned commercial business – has applied to Hastings Borough Council for permission to do various tree-works. (The planning reference is HS/TP/16/00089/SR.) Concerns have been expressed, notably by the Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) campaign.

More change makes more damage more likely. Issues include:

  • The proposed works by the Mayhew Consultancy are unsatisfactory. The application itself is full of errors – and it is surprising that Hastings Borough Council allowed it to pass the validation phase. For instance, the location plans are dated circa 2009 and are seriously out-of-date given the many changes at the site since then. Many trees have been removed and at least three significant landslides have changed the appearance, outlook and the topography of the land. Additionally, both site locations and tree numbers have been transposed – and this could lead to the loss of healthy trees.
  • It is curious that the application uses unscaled plans. Additionally, there is often insufficient detail about the trees to be felled, lopped, pollarded, pruned, coppiced, or otherwise treated.
  • SEG want all works – including these proposed tree works – to be suspended until the stability of the lower slopes has been assessed and measures taken to stabilize them. The tree-works will contribute to existing slope instability, and jeopardise personal safety.
  • No evidence is given to support the claim that trees are diseased. In some cases, ‘poor tree maintenance’ is mentioned as a reason for felling or other treatment. There is an element of chutzpah in this (whose fault is that?), as reducing the height of a tree will reduce what screening remains between Rocklands Caravan Park and the Country Park – and will affect the amenity of the area. The caravan park will have better views presumably.
  • Some of the trees affected are already the subject of a Tree Protection Order (TPO) – and the applicants have not provided a tree replanting scheme to replace the trees that are to be felled, as required. Nor have they instead given a written justification on why they have not considered a tree replanting proposal.
  • Additionally, there are concerns that the sewage system at Rocklands is now threatened by the landslip — and so urgent enforcement action is required. The Mayhew Consultancy recommend that one particular tree (a tree of heaven) is removed — but make no comment about the reasons for the ground cracking beneath it. Regardless, more geotechnical work is needed.

Space for dissatisfaction

Rocklands Caravan Park

Rocklands Caravan Park

In a previous report, Rocklands’ caravans were compared to bacilli. Since then, some caravans have been removed. Now there is a suspicion that more trees are to be removed in an attempt to make more space in the caravan park. Calculations based on the spacing and density rules that govern caravan sites suggest there are already 15 – 20 caravans too many on the Rocklands site. More space would ease that pressure.

The 2014 inquiry by RH Environmental into Hastings Borough Council’s licensing and regulation of Rocklands is here.

The Mayhew Consultancy application acknowledges previous damage inflicted upon the trees. However, to date, Hastings Borough Coucil has taken no action against Rocklands for the destruction of trees, claiming there was no evidence. In addition, there is reference in the application to three tree stumps — new further evidence of the historical destruction of trees.

SEG ask that the tree-works be suspended until a Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) has been issued to gather all information on trees destroyed on site, with a view to taking enforcement action. They have a legal opinion that supports in detail the case for a PCN and subsequent appropriate enforcement.

Concern is strong that should permission be granted, Rocklands will be able to treat the permission as carte-blanche to fell many of the surviving trees, resulting in wider harm. The Council has other concerns and inadequate resources – and is unlikely to catalogue the trees prior to the works, or bother to check on compliance after the works have been done.

In recent years, damage to Hastings Country Park and its setting has been extensive. The further changes threatened include damage to biodiversity, ecology, and protected species and environments, plus there are apparent breaches of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), paragraphs 117 and 118. The proposals for these new tree-works raise interconnected questions about the issues concerning the Country Park / Rocklands / Ecclesbourne Glen, frequently previously discussed.

The 'bunker' Photo Bernard McGinley

The ‘bunker’ Photo Bernard McGinley

Last January the Planning Inspector was to have heard an appeal (ref HS/FA/14/01036) that would effectively have decided the future of the case known as ‘952’ (HS/FA/12/00952) — the widely detested Bunker. The hearing had to be postponed and is now expected to be held on Thursday 21 April.

The objections of SEG and others to the tree-works are readable here – and the application is still to be decided. Sadly HBC’s record in this diverse matter is not one that inspires confidence. The deadline for objecting is Friday 25 March. If you want to leave a comment or file an objection, here is the link to the planning application.


Posted 18:04 Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 In: Home Ground


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  1. Chris Hurrell

    The tree of heaven will soon be felled should the tree application be approved.

    I was allowed to visit the site on Friday 22/04/16 as part of the appeal process. I was able to see the land around the tree marked at location 8 on the Mayhew report and described a s a tree of heaven. The Mayhew report claims that there is ground cracking causing the tree to be at an angle. There was no evidence whatsoever of ground cracking. The tree is at an angle and appears to be very healthy. I am surprised that Mr Wilken failed to notice that there is no evidence of ground cracking. One wonders whether Mr Wilken has properly inspected the site before approving this application. I recommend that this tree remains with some form of support. This tree is in an area which could take 1 or 2 caravans if the tree was removed. I conclude that the real reason for felling is to allow some displaced caravans or solar panels to be placed here.

    This one example is indicative of the slack validation processes in place, the failure of the Tree Officer Mr Wilken to check claims made by applicants and the failure to recommend alternatives to felling. The fact that all this goes on at a site which is so sensitive and has attracted so much public opinion makes one wonder what happen for less controversial applications.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Saturday, Apr 23, 2016 @ 14:48

  2. Chris Hurrell

    HBC enforcement officer Mr Berrisford has refused to take any action against tree removals (yet again) on the grounds that there is no evidence. He refuses to accept that Rocklands own admission of tree works and stumps is new evidence that admits unauthorised works have been done. He also refuses to issue a Planning Contravention Notice to establish the facts of tree removal. He was provided with a copy of the SEG barristers report but choses to ignore all arguments made by our barrister.

    HBC persist in their false claim that there is insufficient evidence to take enforcement action over tree removals. Our barrister is of a different opinion. HBC have never properly considered the evidence put to them and still persist in denying the facts of tree removal. HBC have had several cover stories from Mr Crawfords claim that “only bushes were removed” to Mr Boormans claim that “trees were only removed by the landslip” to the current claim that there is insufficient evidence of tree removals. HBC have persisted with this claim during the appeal hearing for the bunker.

    As part of the appeal I was allowed on the Rocklands site yesterday. I can now confirm that there are at least 6 or 7 tree stumps in the vicinity of the bunker alone. These stumps are clear evidence that Rocklands have removed trees without permission and against planning conditions. I cannot understand how Mr Wilken, Mr Berrisford, Mrs Bahcheli and other HBC officers persist in the unfounded claims that there is no evidence of tree removals. One can only wonder what motivates these officers to continue to ignore the obvious evidence in front of their eyes.

    It seems that the latest tree application has now been drafted. Despite a public furore it will be decided by delegated authority. If passed Rocklands will have carte blanche to continue the destruction of our Country Park.

    HBC are failing to protect this asset. Their total failure to take any enforcement action against tree removals (and complete denial of physical evidence) and their failure to take enforcement action on the slopes is a total disgrace. I believe the glen has been sacrificed to cover up for the past mistakes and complicity of HBC officers.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Saturday, Apr 23, 2016 @ 08:02

  3. Sapphire lady

    The solar panels have gone but not gone far – they have just moved them to another location which, for different reasons, is as unsatisfactory as the original location.
    Solar panels must have safety fencing around them due to the high voltage which operates these panels. This is a caravan park with children playing on the site and these panels are a danger if tampered with. The Enforcement officer at the council needs to make a visit up there pdq to see precisely what is going on. Of course the Enforement order did not actually say where they could move these panels to…it merely said they had to move them – so there we go again. Another fine mess…

    A more serious issue is the decision this week by the planning department to decide the application for the removal of these protected trees under the delegated route. This means that officers will decide the application and the planning committee will have no say in the matter. Now is this democracy? Nope – it is just another example of the secrecy surrounding the activities up at this caravan park. It was a delegated decision which caused the construction of the infamous ‘bunker’ – lessons have not been learned here and I think the council has not heard the last of this fiasco.

    Comment by Sapphire lady — Wednesday, Mar 30, 2016 @ 19:56

  4. Patricia Stephenson

    Excellent resume of the situation Chris – and very concerning too – we have to ask why it is such an uphill struggle to prevent these caravan park owners destroying even more of our country park?

    Time after time they have contravened planning legislation and yet this council seems reluctant to bring them to account. As one objection on the planning website remarks – ‘this caravan park enterprise seems to be supported by Hastings Borough Council’. Well, why would anyone think otherwise? The report by the councils tree officer is shameful. Basically condoning more damage/removal of the trees up on this site. And this ‘expert’ fails to mention the Scheduled Ancient Monument which is in the line of the proposed works.

    Comment by Patricia Stephenson — Thursday, Mar 17, 2016 @ 11:33

  5. chris hurrell

    Great article Bernard. The solar panels have gone (for the time being at least). The bunker appeal is now on the 21/04/2016. The HBC tree officer Mr Chris Wilken has now approved the latest tree application.

    It is clear from Mr Wilken comments that he has not done a proper survey of the site and has not considered the application in any detail at all.

    This is not the first time that Mr Wilken has been less then thorough concerning tree works on the Rocklands site.

    A previous tree application HS/TP/14/ 845 was withdrawn because it lacked sufficient details to specify the nature of the tree works and which trees would be concerned. On this occasion Mr Wilken was both consultant to Rocklands and the Borough Tree Officer. This was a clear conflict of interest. Nevertheless Mr Wilken was happy to approve all tree works on this occasion. Thankfully the Case Officer insisted the application was withdrawn.

    When a Tree Preservation Order was first applied to the site in 2014 it failed to include a row of spruce trees that were vital in preserving what little screening remained on the site. Mr Wilken was very reluctant to include these trees as he did not consider them worthy. After a lot of public pressure the spruce trees were included in a new Tree Preservation Order. This episode illustrates what little regard Mr Wilken has for the visual amenity of the site.

    I note that Mr Wilken has had previous involvements with this site. In the past he has always been very supportive of all tree works carried out on the site without having full possession of the facts concerning the site.

    I note that in Mr Wilken visited the site in 2013. At this time the owners of Rocklands had already removed large numbers of trees and had also lopped and topped many other trees on site. Many trees had been removed from the lower slopes in order to create space for a row of 8 completely unauthorised caravans. All the works on the lower slopes were without benefit of a planning application and all works breached planning conditions.

    At the time of his visit in 2013 Mr Wilken appears to have been completely unaware of a planning condition HS/FA/78/708 condition 4 which expressly forbade any tree works on site without seeking consent from the Local Planning Authority.

    “No trees on the site shall be lopped, topped or felled without the prior written consent of the District Planning Authority”

    This planning condition is still relevant as it has not been discharged or rescinded and the owners of the caravan park have not challenged the condition.

    Mr Wilken appears not to be aware of this condition despite Planning Department having been informed of unauthorised tree removals. If Mr Wilken had done some basic research then the large scale loss of screening at Rocklands could well have been avoided. Unfortunately Mr Wilken undertook no such research and was happy to report that

    “the Arboriculturalist is content that the owner is acting responsibly in connection with trees on the caravan park and that any tree work will be carried out in accordance with our Arboriculturalists recommendations” please see Appendix A for full letter.

    Mr Wilken was involved in assessing the evidence presented by SEG concerning unauthorised removal of trees. SEG stated on several occasions that they wished to meet and discuss the evidence with him. Mr Wilken ignored all requests for a meeting, did not asses the evidence and was happy to declare that very few trees had been removed from the site and that most of these had been removed by the landslip.

    Unfortunately Mr Wilken seems to have learnt nothing from his past mistakes and is still happy to allow Rocklands to continue tree works without any proper consideration of the facts on the ground. He is happy to continue to work in exactly the same fashion that has already contributed to the loss of Ecclesbourne Glen.

    The Planning Committee should be aware of Mr Wilken’s history of involvement on the Rocklands site. Over the years he has failed to exercise due diligence and allowed the owners of Rocklands to remove scores of trees without permissions. For these reasons I would advise the committee to be very wary of the evidence presented by Mr Wilken for this current application.

    Comment by chris hurrell — Wednesday, Mar 16, 2016 @ 21:28

  6. Richard Heritage

    Yes second that Bernard excellent reporting. Right on Lucy about so many unanswered questions and issues with this site. My overall opinion is twofold:
    1) Rocklands have got away with some many things on that site over the years they just continued to do what ever they wanted to without inspections from HBC. Now of course the history of the site has been exposed both visually and historically with the plethora of several infractions.
    2) HBC trying their very best to distance themselves from any blame or mismanagement as they know the Rocklands owners probably have them over a barrel and could give them a good roasting in civil court actions.

    Look at the recent issue with Cllr Atkins who bought the Rocklands fiasco up at a full council meeting. Suddenly the Labour lot claim he was out of line and now faces the Standards Committee.

    Apart from the late Cllr. Hodges not one Labour councillor has really spoke up about it. And as for the planning department – well the portcullis is down and they are in their Bunker….no not the Rocklands bunker

    Comment by Richard Heritage — Friday, Mar 11, 2016 @ 18:00

  7. Lucy Locket

    Excellent article – but one has to wonder why these people simply will not stop these destructive works on this site. Bunker still there – (is the Appeal Inspector not recovered as yet?) Solar panels still there (what happened to the Enforcement Notice to remove these panels? Evidence of major cracks in the ground with large voids beneath? – surely this needs investigation?

    One thing is for sure: give these proprietors consent to cut down one more tree and it will be the end of this area of the country park as we know it. It seems that these people have absolutely no regard for this important Hastings landmark and it also appears that our planning department has never taken seriously any of the destruction up there. What has to happen to really make this council take drastic action?

    Comment by Lucy Locket — Friday, Mar 11, 2016 @ 11:56

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