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The bunker as viewed from the west in November 2016.

The Bunker – quite visible from the west in November 2016.

Planting scheme moves closer to approval

Hopes that the Rocklands holiday-let building – the so-called Bunker – would be properly screened from view appear to be fading, following acceptance by the council’s tree officer of the revised planting scheme. In the view of the Save Ecclesbourne Glen group, this is, or was, probably the last chance to shield visitors to the Country Park from views of the much disliked building. Nick Terdre reports.

When he granted permission for the Bunker to be left in place last June, the planning inspector stipulated a number of conditions, including a planting scheme to the north-east, south and west of the building to ensure that it would not be visible from the Country Park. The Rocklands Caravan Park owners are now seeking to have this condition discharged; in other words, to have their planting plan approved by the council.

The tree officer – or borough arboriculturalist to give him his official title – has given his approval to the revised planting scheme submitted by Rocklands, but the decision of the case officer, if it has been taken, is not yet known. Unless she refuses the scheme, it will go to the planning committee, at the earliest in February.

The prospect of council approval has dismayed critics of the Bunker, including Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG). “Should the condition be discharged, then the very last opportunity to protect the visual amenity of our Country Park will be lost forever,” the group’s Chris Hurrell told HOT. “This will be the final act of betrayal of our Country Park by those we employ to protect it.”

First plan refused

Rocklands’ first plan, prepared by a chartered arboriculturist, consisted mainly of 70 holly whips – young trees – planted in 2014 to the south of the Bunker, plus three new holm oaks to be planted to the north-east. It stated that only native species would be used, and that all new plantings would be within the designated area of the building, the so-called red line site (see diagram below). It also said there would be no planting within the area of a scheduled ancient monument which underlies the Bunker and in fact covers most of the red line site.

However, in October the applicants were informed that the plan failed to fill the bill. “Despite seasonal tree growth, the west facing side of the building remains largely exposed to outside views,” the case officer wrote to them on 13 October. “Additional planting is required on both the western boundary, and to the north east of the building (as set out specifically in the condition) to reinforce the establishment of effective screening…The trees proposed to the north of the building will not provide sufficient screening from the rest of the country park.”

A revised plan was required, she concluded. This letter was not posted on the council’s planning website as it should have been, Mr Hurrell told HOT. (And when this article was published, it was still not there.) SEG obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information request and has now lodged a complaint about the failure to put it in the public domain.

The case officer apparently only received the tree officer’s assessment after she had written to the applicants – his memo to planning is dated 18 October. He offered some criticisms, noting that, “The additional plantings do not offer screening of the building when viewed from east, west or south,” and that, “The aspect from which the building remains conspicuous, particularly at close quarters, is the west facing side of the building.”

However he seemed happy with the view from the East Hill – “The subject building when viewed from the East Hill at close quarters is now largely obscured by naturally occurring tree growth,” and expressed the view that, “…on going natural regeneration of trees and scrub layer” was the “most sustainable method of screening the subject building.”

In a further memo dated 3 November, apparently after a visit to Rocklands, he asked that “the possibility of increasing the extent of proposed Holm oak plantings be explored.”

Revised plan

And this is what happened. In December, a revised scheme submitted by Rocklands. showed little difference from the original except that the number of holm oaks was increased to 12. Although the scheme still maintained that all new plantings would be within the red line area, a diagram of the layout of the site clearly indicates that the additional nine oaks would be located outside this area (see below).

Despite the case officer’s observations on the inadequacy of the original scheme, nothing new was proposed with respect to the west, south or east sides.

However, in the tree officer’s view, the new scheme was acceptable. In a memo on 29 December, he wrote: “The proposed planting of additional Holm oak, combined with the establishing Holly will overtime have the desired outcome regarding the screening of the subject building.

“I consider the proposed planting to be sufficiently robust and I’m happy for the relevant planning condition to be discharged.”

And that’s all he says – there is no discussion of how the new proposals satisfy the criticisms he previously raised and nothing about the fact that the additional holm oaks will be planted outside the red line area.

Non native species

Nor does he comment on the fact that a non native species will be used. This fact was pointed out by both the Hastings and Rother Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB ) Unit. In September the latter wrote that the scheme “…incorrectly states that Holm Oak is a native species. Holm Oak is not native to this country and can be very invasive.” It suggested alternative native species.

In response to the revised plan, it reiterated these comments and expressed fears that the holm oak could successfully seed in the Country Park, causing damage to “this important botanical site.”

In its comment on the original scheme, Historic England pointed out that some planting could be acceptable on the site of the scheduled ancient monument and offered to provide further advice. Mr Wilken acknowledged this possibility in his October memo.

But none of these aspects are mentioned, still less discussed, in his brief statement of approval for the revised scheme.

“Mr Wilken has ignored the wishes of the HBC planning committee who refused the Bunker twice because of its effects on visual amenity,” Mr Hurrell told HOT. “He has ignored the wishes of the planning inspector who wished to mitigate the visual impact of the bunker through extensive plantings including semi-mature specimens and the opinion of the planning case officer. He has ignored the comments of consultees, including statutory bodies such as the High Weald AONB, and the concerns of many hundreds of Hastings residents.”

revised-planting-schedule-dec16-600

Diagram showing the holiday-let building (bottom centre), the proposed new plantings (top right), the red line site and the area of the scheduled ancient monument (shaded light brown). (Source: Appendix A in the Amended Landscaping Scheme Report.)

The reference number for this application is HS/CD/!6/00655, where all documents quoted above can be found.

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 21 January to correct some misrepresentations of the views of the tree officer.

Posted 12:25 Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017 In: Home Ground

3 Comments

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  1. chris hurrell

    Another revised planting scheme has been submitted by Rocklands. This revised scheme substitutes the 12 Holm oaks for 12 English Oaks. The 12 oaks will do nothing to screen the building from the Country Park and East Hill.

    In all other respects the planting scheme remains exactly the same as the original submitted in July 2016. The second revised planting scheme makes no attempt whatsoever to address the concerns of the planning inspector, the planning case officer or consultees concerning the complete failure to screen the building from the East Hill or Country Park.

    The second revised planting scheme does nothing to replace the substantial loss of screening made when the building was constructed.

    The second revised planting scheme still claims that no new plantings can be made in the area of the Scheduled Ancient Monument and that therefore no plantings will be made. Historic England has made it clear that scheduled monument consent is required but plantings would be allowed within the scheduled monument.

    The second revised planting scheme still makes no attempt whatsoever to propose any screening that will screen the building from the East Hill and Ecclesbourne Glen. The twelve tiny English oak trees will only screen the building from within the caravan site.

    The second revised planting scheme does not meet the criteria for discharge specified by the HBC Case Officer.The correspondence dated 13/10/2016 between the case officer and the applicants concerning discharge of condition four expressly states that the condition cannot be discharged until various requirements have been met.

    The second revised planting scheme does not propose any plantings on the western boundary and north east as required by the case officer in order to meet the conditions imposed by the planning inspector.

    The second revised planting scheme does not propose any new plantings around the south eastern boundary as suggested by the planning case officer.

    The case officer recognises that planting to the north of the building will not provide screening from the rest of the Country Park; however the ONLY new plantings proposed by the applicant are to the north of the building.

    External consultees such as the AONB and CPRE have already objected to the previous planting schemes on the grounds that they offer no screening from the East Hill or Country Park. The second revised planting scheme offers no screening from the East Hill and Country Park.

    This second revised planting scheme flies in the face of the concerns of the HBC Case Officer, the expectations and conditions set by the Planning Inspector, the previous decisions of the planning committee and the objections of several external consultees including the AONB and CPRE.

    The words of Councillor John Hodges concerning the Rocklands application in May 2014 seem so appropriate to the current application:

    “This is the green jewel in the crown of this town’s tourism offer, our duty as councillors is to protect it………if we let this recommendation go ahead without what I, and many others have asked for as a minimum protection of their visual enjoyment, then we have failed miserably in discharging our duty towards those who look to us for their support.”

    Comment by chris hurrell — Wednesday, Jan 25, 2017 @ 16:13

  2. Ms. doubtfire

    Having read the latest professional comments on this tree planting scheme in the latest planning paperwork, one has to question why this council is appearing to ignore the comments made by Jason Lavender from the High Weald AONB Unit where he categorically states that the planting of non native Holm Oaks is inappropriate and will result in the seeds of this invasive plant scattering into the Country Park and adversely affecting other native plants.
    Is there nobody within this council who will take heed of professional opinions other than their own in house tree person?
    Something is very very wrong here.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 @ 09:38

  3. Ms. doubtfire

    It would appear that the council officers (the paid members of staff) take absolutely no notice of anything the elected councillors put forward reference planning applications….so this beggars the question why bother with planning committee meetings?
    These officers will make up their own rules and our elected councillors may as well just let them get on with it.
    It is a shocking situation. Democracy gone from this town. And we have been informed recently that tree works do not have to go before the planning committe – this town is on a very slippery slope to becoming a dictatorship.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017 @ 19:35

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