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Rocklands' Bunker - bone of contention in the Country Park but unlikely to be screened from view anytime soon.

Rocklands’ Bunker – bone of contention in the Country Park but unlikely to be screened from view anytime soon.

Ombudsman upholds Rocklands complaint

The local government ombudsman has upheld a complaint about Hastings Borough Council’s handling of developments in the Rocklands caravan park, but acknowledges that the council has taken action to improve its procedures. Meanwhile the Save Ecclesbourne Glen group has again resorted to the Information Commissioner to get a proper Rocklands’ site plan from the council. Nick Terdre reports.

The local government ombudsman concluded that the complaint lodged on behalf of a local residents’ association and Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) was upheld “because the council acted with fault in its handling of certain planning and licensing matters” in connection with Rocklands. In view of steps already taken by the council, she did not feel it necessary to offer a further ‘remedy’ or recommendation to HBC.

The matters on which the council was found to be at fault included its handling of the holiday let home known as the Bunker, licensing of the caravan site, developments on the lower slopes of the site where a landslip has now occurred, and tree removals.

The ombudsman said she did not intend to investigate the matter further partly because of evidence that the council wished to learn lessons and avoid a repeat; on the basis of an independent consultant’s assessment of its actions it had drawn up a plan to improve procedures and had it independently monitored. However, it was not part of the ombudsman’s remit to oversee the implementation of the plan, she said.

The finding was welcomed by SEG, which said that this was the first finding of maladministration against HBC since 2001.

Council spokesman Kevin Boorman said, “This case has been ongoing for over two and a half years. The council accepts that it made errors early on in the process, and we have acknowledged that. We were pleased that the Ombudsman found no fault in how we had handled the more recent concerns about Rocklands caravan park.”

Regular contact recommended

While recognising that she was not in a position to tell the council what to do in respect of future communications, the ombudsman recommended that it establish a procedure for keeping in regular contact with the complainants, such as providing monthly updates in writing.

Mr Boorman said, “We are keen to move on, and the council intends to give the Save Ecclesbourne Glen group an annual update on Ecclesbourne Glen issues to ensure that they are kept fully briefed.”

This is not the end of the ombudsman’s involvement in Rocklands. She mentions three issues which she said could not be dealt with as part of the complaint in hand. but could be the subject of separate complaints: the lack of enforcement action by the council to have the lower slopes of the caravan site (on which unauthorised hardstanding and other infrastructure have been installed) returned to their previous state, whether the council has properly corrected its use of minor material amendments, and tree works approved by the council. SEG told HOT that a complaint on the enforcement issue was lodged this week.

Following the recent decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) upholding SEG’s complaint about the council’s refusal to supply the site plans for Rocklands and some other local caravan parks, SEG reiterated its request to the council for other documents, notably Coffey’s geo-technical report. It is still awaiting a response.

Back to the ICO

However the group went back to the ICO when the Rocklands site plan supplied by the council following the ICO’s ruling turned out to be, in SEG’s assessment, a wiring diagram dating back to 2007 which was already in the public domain. Prompted by the ICO, the council then supplied a new plan dating from July 2015.

The ICO told SEG that “We have concerns about the council’s failure to identify this information during our investigation and we have advised the council that, in future, it should ensure that proper searches are made for requested information.”

The council is in the throes of negotiating a new site licence for Rocklands, as independent scrutiny has found the current one to be invalid. This is proving a lengthy process: though originally due to be issued in January 2015, the new licence has been delayed due to the complexity of the negotiations, as the council informed the ombudsman.

New planting scheme

Rocklands have now proposed a new planting scheme – planting to screen the Bunker from the sight of visitors to the Country Park was one of the conditions imposed by the planning inspector when allowing their appeal against the planning committee’s refusal of planning permission.

The new scheme, presumably produced at the council’s behest, calls for 12 young oak trees instead of three. SEG, which complained to the council that the original scheme was inadequate, says its criticism applies equally to the new scheme. In particular the oak trees will be located so as to screen the Bunker from the rest of the caravan park but no planting is proposed to screen views of the Bunker from the East Hill or Ecclesbourne Glen.

Costs revealed

Under a Freedom of Information request the council has provided SEG with a breakdown of its expenditure on Rocklands to date. Of a total of £91,714, £49,175 has been spent on legal advice, presumably including the bill for legal representation at the appeal, £21,515 on consultancy, £19,973 on reports and studies and £1,050 on repairs. This is not the full cost, SEG says – officer time on the case is not included.

“All this money spent because HBC gave planning permission for the bunker against all local planning policies, failed to monitor developments at Rocklands, ignored public concerns about the developments prior to the landslip and failed to inspect the caravan site for over twenty years,” the group comments.

Posted 17:14 Thursday, Dec 22, 2016 In: Home Ground


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms. doubtfire

    Following the distressing news that one of the cows up at the Country Park drowned after falling into a disused water tank, one has to question just who is monitoring these poor animals and the condition of the area where they are stationed.

    I understand the council owns these animals – who holds the appropriate qualifications and licences to keep these animals? Who is responsible for monitoring their wellbeing? How could an unsafe disused water tank be allowed to remain in this area? Is this another example of the perceived dilatory actions of this council in relation to our Country Park. Poor animal. Shameful and avoidable situation.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Friday, Jan 6, 2017 @ 11:52

  2. Richard Heritage

    On the council acknowledging mistakes were made Ms Doubtfire, remember it has taken a two year LGO complaint to get them to say that. When has this council ever freely admitted it has made a mistake? Is there anyone out there who can tell me. Having read the LGO report you can see this quango could have come down harder on HBC but they rarely do with any issue you present to them.

    Yes Andy Ammo the same old “mantra” they have learned from there mistakes. Well watch this space for the next one and I think it is already on the horizon….West Hill Road….looks to be the next one. And one where they are going to probably throw another bundle of public money at that too looking at the problems with this site.

    As for the 92K spent on Rocklands don’t forget other planning fiascos few know about that have cost the taxpayer. Fern Road – around £88,000 in legal fees for twelve houses. Hawthorn Road – over 90K again for 16 houses. Then Undercliff around 15K on that – a site that will now be a blot on the landscape for perpetuity.

    And not one councillor has ever stood up over any of these sites and said something needs to be sorted out with the Planning Department

    Comment by Richard Heritage — Thursday, Dec 29, 2016 @ 17:36

  3. Bruce Nicol

    The incompetence of those on HBC who had the power to prevent this rape of our natural environment is nothing short of scandalous.

    Comment by Bruce Nicol — Thursday, Dec 29, 2016 @ 11:30

  4. Ms. doubtfire

    Said so many times: The only way to rid ourselves of this useless and questionable planning department and feeble council is for the entire council to be placed under Special Measures – but who will make the first move to bring this about?? Our MP?

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Saturday, Dec 24, 2016 @ 12:32

  5. Chris Hurrell

    Mr Boorman’s argument that HBC has handled recent concerns correctly hinges on the planning improvement plan published in March 2015. The Ombudsman recognises that HBC have drawn up this improvement plan to remedy these faults. HOWEVER the Ombudsman admits that they do not have regulatory powers to monitor the plan.

    SEG believe that it was outside the remit of the Ombudsman to verify that the plan had been implemented. SEG have evidence that the plan has not been implemented and have very serious concerns about how HBC continue to handle the issues.

    SEG consider that an annual update is insufficient and does not address the concerns and recommendations of the ombudsman.
    The Ombudsman recognises that there are several areas which have not been fully considered by the complaint and will require subsequent complaints to be made to the Ombudsman.

    SEG fear that HBC are far too keen to “move on” as Mr Boorman says. To date HBC have taken no practical action whatsoever to protect the visual amenity of the area or to address the causes of the landslip. HBC refuse to release key reports that would grant the public a better understanding of the causes of the landslip and remedial action to stop it.

    HBC have no intention of replanting screening within or around the site. SEG fear that HBC intend to do nothing and the glen will remain closed for good.

    The planting conditions for the bunker have still to be discharged by officers. Rocklands previously submitted a completely inadequate planting scheme that only proposed planting 3 tiny oak trees in an area that would never screen the bunker from the East Hill or Country Park.

    SEG wrote to the Planning Department and to the Borough Tree Officer about our concerns with the planting scheme. Rocklands have now submitted a new planting scheme. There is nothing in this new planting scheme to suggest that any of our concerns have been taken seriously.

    This scheme now proposes 12 tiny oak trees in an area that will never screen the bunker from the East Hill or country Park. The new planting scheme retains all of the faults of the old one and is a complete joke that flies in the face of the expectations of the Planning Inspector and the conditions imposed by the inspector. All of our previous criticism of the previous planting scheme still apply to this new planting scheme:

    SEG still hope that HBC will demonstrate its determination to protect our Country Park (as evidenced in the two decisions of the Planning Committee to refuse applications) by stipulating a planting scheme that is in alignment with the requirements intended by the Planning Inspector and by decisions and comments made by HBC and other consultees over the history of this development.

    SEG consider this the last chance to protect the visual integrity of the East Hill and Ecclesbourne Glen from the damage caused by the building of the Rocklands holiday let building. Should condition 4 be discharged according to the planting scheme as proposed then the visual amenity of the area will be lost for ever.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Saturday, Dec 24, 2016 @ 08:46

  6. Andy Ammo

    The old Lessons-Will-Be-Learned mantra we’ve had from HBC before. So why does it keep happening? £92k of public money (our money) has been wasted on something that need never have happened. And after all that, the Bunker isn’t even to be screened?
    The planning department of HBC has lost its credibility (or whatever credibility it had). This week’s shocking news of affordable housing lost at Station Plaza is another instance. (Thanks Hottie for the news.) Even if in law there is nothing to be done (a matter that remains unclear), where were the Councillors challenging the decision and the process? If their role is so restricted, did any of them think of resigning?
    At least the Information Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman have noticed formally how badly managed the Council is by the senior Officers.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Friday, Dec 23, 2016 @ 13:57

  7. Ms. doubtfire

    The council acknowledges that mistakes were made – but the people of this town will have to witness the damage caused to our country park by these ‘mistakes’for a very long time indeed.
    No doubt the council is keen to ‘move on’ – but as long as Eccelsbourne Glen remains closed to the public and the hideous bunker remains in situ it will be impossible to move on and forget what happened up there.
    A stark reminder of our dilatory council. And most worryingly it appears the land is still slipping.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Thursday, Dec 22, 2016 @ 18:58

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