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Trouble at Mill Lane

In 2017 a planning application for a large house in Ore was given approval by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) (ref HS/FA/17/00468 (‘468‘)), subject to certain conditions. The development as approved remains uncompleted. On the other hand, the building has features that lack planning permission. Following two refusals and two failed appeals, there’s a new application. Bernard McGinley reports.

The newish bloated mansion at Mill Lane and Martineau Lane has had three reports in HOT this year: February, early April and mid-April. The bulky hulk on the edge of the Country Park has a history of procedural disregard.

The base permission is ‘468’, approved in October 2017, which came with a number of conditions, including number 11:

. . . no extension of the property shall take place or out-buildings be erected for the property without the grant of planning permission from the Local Planning Authority.

Approved elevation from ‘468’, with hillside slope, and a lack of lower windows

‘267’

Unfortunately the instructions and physical restrictions were not clear enough for the professional developers. Application HS/FA/18/00267 (‘267’) was made, a ‘Variation of Condition’.  

The variation was to amend ‘468’ by converting the garage to a ‘games room’, making a three-floor house, and adding to the property’s floor area. It was refused, following consideration of much guidance and many sources. Land stability was also a factor, as the officers’ committee report acknowledged at para 5 c).

The report on ‘267’ was emphatic:

This proposal to visually ‘cut’ into the bank [i.e. hillside] and thereby create the appearance of a larger, more urban scale dwelling over three floors on the northern elevation is not considered to be appropriate in this sensitive location at the edge of the AONB. The proposal would neither protect nor enhance the inherent visual qualities and distinctive character of the AONB landscape or the character of the area. The visual impact is considered to be inappropriate to the location.

Note the lower window opening on the front, softly bricked up:  not a matter of good faith.  (Photo:  CCP.)

The owners built what they wanted, a front wall with temporary removable bricks, in anticipation of ‘267’ submitted in March 2018. The building looked as on the right. ‘267’ was refused in May 2018.

Ludicrously, the ‘lower ground’ drawing of application ‘267’ was itself the subject of redaction in the present case: a drawing from the previous application was censored. The Council also deleted part of their own policy map showing the extent of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Such censorship of the public record is typical of what gives HBC’s planning department a reputation for lacking openness, transparency, nous and more. Their views on what’s inappropriate are also inappropriate.  

‘884’

Application HS/FA/20/00884 (‘884’) followed. In April 2021, at the Planning Committee meeting, a cross-party consensus disagreed with the officers’ formal recommendation to approve it. Although the applicant’s agent emphasised how the live application ‘884’ allegedly resembled its approved predecessor ‘468’, it was noticed that it bore a closer resemblance to ‘267’ that had been rejected for spoiling the Country Park. Part of the application’s redline site was in the AONB. (The extent of the application’s redline area had already changed after approval in 2017.)

The Committee discussion was long. Terms such as  

Pythonesque . . . problems and consequences . . . just a landgrab . . . not acceptable . . . quite offensive . . . underhand . . . enraged . . . we are not content

were used. Then the Committee refused approval for ‘884’ by 8 votes to one (and an abstention), the one being Planning Chair Cllr Roberts.

Following the refusal there was an appeal but not against the decision, against the landscaping. (The papers are under case HS/CD/20/00214 (‘214‘).) In August 2021 the Planning Inspector’s decision (ref 3271702) was decisive, for dismissal. A previous appeal (also unsuccessful, PI ref 2126714) was over the ‘chalet bungalow’ HS/FA/09/00240 that had planning permission but was eventually not built.

The window and slope now, compared with the drawing above

New case:   ‘712’

Government guidance is clear that only one retrospective application is allowed. Now the developers have submitted HS/FA/21/00712 (‘712‘). A key document is the applicants’ Planning Statement that seeks to persuade the Council and others that the blingy pile is somehow compliant. Previous cases, notably the refused ones (bites of the retrospective cherry), go unmentioned.

References to ‘the void’ fail to explain that the void came into existence because of the excavation of the bank, so that the garage floor expanded to include a ‘games room’, now the ‘habitable room’. The expected explanations are absent. See also the ‘267’ committee report (Section 2):

This proposal would alter the north elevation of the approved dwellinghouse. It would cut into the slope of the field and extend the lower ground floor the full length of the property’s north elevation as it faces Mill Lane . . .  

Para 1.2.2 of the Planning Statement falsely states

that the setting out of the building is accurate and that the slab level and built form of the dwelling are as approved by the 2017 permission.

To begin with the windows and steps lack approval, and the games room. Elsewhere the Planning Statement (p7) blusters:

As with the creation of the room itself, if the scheme had simply first been constructed in full accordance with the plans, the windows would not have required a planning application and the use of the void space would not amount to development.

Again this is false, though the habit of not specifying which application is meant helps to sow confusion. The agent’s reference in June 2021 to 

various “alleged” breaches

shows a disdain for the planning process, and a skill in gaming the system against a supine planning authority.

Discrepancies

In June the Council’s Planning Services Manager listed (see para 1.2.5 of the Planning Statement) the live issues: 

a)  engineering operations affecting land level side 

b)  the steps to the west

c)  the habitable room in the basement, and related windows  

d)  the enlarged terrace/back patio

e)  the enlarged driveway (turning area), reducing soft landscaping 

f)   increased residential curtilage 

g)  the steps to the east

h)  the addition of rooflight on the rear roof. 

The list however omits mention of ‘the wall’ (see below). 

Seeking to explain away these discrepancies, the Planning Statement fails. This may be why professional consultants seem reluctant to put their name or contact details to it. Elsewhere the Planning Statement (para 1.1.6) takes refuge in patronising, mimsy drivel:

In this respect we submit that there are perhaps misunderstandings on the part of some, as to precisely what has been approved to date and consequently perhaps a misunderstanding as to precisely what the Council have previously approved . . .    

Whose ‘misunderstandings’ have they in mind? It’s as though they hadn’t noticed the conditions of permission ‘468′

However at one point (1.2.6) they acknowledge difficulties:   

Despite the approved plans (18/197), the north and eastern edges of the bank adjacent to the house have not been built out as approved.

As such this exposes a larger expanse of the side wall (west elevation) and the driveway /parking/ turning area is larger than approved.

The terrace to the rear of the building has been built larger than approved and the western boundary as proposed now extends further west than approved. This part of the site is within the AONB. 

This is all remarkably casual however, for a professional operation.  

The wall:  an aside

The bank was excavated away without permission, and the wall invades the AONB

The retaining/garden wall (above) is another irregularity of this labyrinthine development. Approved case ‘468’ and ‘712’ (the present application) have different redline areas, including in the area beyond and to the right of the front gate. The wall does not have planning permission. It also extends into the AONB:  grounds for its removal by Council enforcement action.   

Two similar cases sought to regularise the acceptability of the facts on the ground:  HS/CD/18/00197 and HS/CD/20/00214both about hard and soft landscaping. Both applications have drawings identically captioned, labelled Drawing 1634/LS1 and Drawing 1634/LS2 respectively, dated October 2017 and March 2020. The Council approved ‘197’, then made a revocation, then made a Groucho Marxist revocation of the revocation. 

Both parties now agree fully that ‘197’ is hunkydory, but HBC refuses under FOI [Freedom of Information] to release the legal advice concerning a friendly, settled matter. ‘214’ superseded ‘197’ as the site had changed so much. The developers’ appeal on ‘214’ was unsuccessful. Neither ‘197’ nor ‘214’ authorised the wall.

Shove meets pushback — or not 

The rogue developers’ contempt for planning decisions and policies is persistent. Beyond this site’s future are bigger questions of enforcement, public benefit, credibility and damage. 

Can the oppositions be resolved, even after the failures of ‘267’ and ‘884’? Despite the continuing breaches and violations, the Planning Services Manager is reluctant to take enforcement action. (See the April meeting video at 43m:42.) 

Will ‘712’ be somehow found to be acceptable? Will members accept officers’ recommendations, whatever they are? Intentional unauthorised development is a material consideration, and this case is another retrospective application.

Enforcement is a key issue. (Park Beck in Upper Maze Hill is also suddenly in need of it.) As the Planning Services Manager said at the April meeting (from 1h:23:25):

. . . it may be that we come to a conclusion that we won’t be enforcing on this: in which case you’ll have a refused application that remains refused, and isn’t regularised.

What then? And why not? Will pushback impose on shove? Can the circle be squared? Who decides? How can the building be built out in accordance with the approved plans when they have already been breached?    

Paragraph 59 of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear:

Effective enforcement is important to maintain public confidence in the planning system.

 

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Posted 16:38 Wednesday, Sep 15, 2021 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Cllr Michael Edwards

    This is an excellent description of a long running saga. The planning committee at its meeting in March made a courageous but correct decision against the recommendation of the planning officer. The regulations used to determine the acceptability or otherwise of planning applications are enshrined in UK law. Essentially what we have here is a direct challenge to the law by a developer.

    It will be interesting to see in these times of enfeebled enforcement of the laws of the land; viz demonstrators sitting down on a motorway bringing traffic to a standstill, illegal migrants landing unchallenged on our beaches only to be taken to a comfortable hotel, a statue ripped from its pedestal under the watchful eye of the constabulary to be dumped in the harbour, whether the HBC planning department has the moral authority (it has the legal authority) to enforce the regulations. How refreshing it would be to hear from members of the HBC cabinet, perhaps even Kim Forward, the Leader of the Council, where they stand on this vital principle. Enforce or fudge.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Wednesday, Sep 15, 2021 @ 23:12

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