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Rother & Hastings District Update February 2019

4th February 2019

Hastings may seem to most people to be thoroughly urban, but it is blessed with countryside for almost 180 degrees around its boundary, the remainder being sea! The problem is that the surrounding countryside is under serious threat at the moment.

First is the state of Ecclesbourne Glen, part of the cliff, east of Hastings, forming part of the Hastings Country Park. The Council allowed various developments on Rocklands Caravan Park which were not properly conditioned and drainage from these has caused a landslip, and thereby the beautiful and interesting footpath has had to be closed for the last four years. And nothing has been done by either Hastings or East Sussex Councils so far as reinstatement or enforcement action against the owners of the site.

Sitting in Hastings planners in-tray for the last year has been an application by the Beaufort Caravan Park to demolish 71 trees protected by Tree Protection Orders for the simple reason that the trees have grown and they are damaging the park’s boundary wall. You might have thought it was both simple and sensible to say no and tell the owners to build a new wall or fence which did not interfere with the trees. But the application languishes on the Hastings’ Planners desk somewhere. We submitted CPREs comments in relation to this application.

The latest problem to arise has not yet become an application but Hastings Council have decided to invest in solar energy. Good thing, you might say, but they have chosen to do it on two sites of extreme sensitivity, simply because they own both sites. The first is in the Hastings Country Park where the initial drawings show that the 10 acres of solar arrays would be seen from more or less any vantage point in the Country Park. The second site is on a farm in Rother Council’s area. Both sites are in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Why, I ask, site solar arrays in two of the few precious areas of open green space around Hastings when they could be placed on the roofs of large buildings in many places in built Hastings, with negligible impact? Even more so when one area, the Country Park, is supposed to be open and to be enjoyed by the wider public.

In Rother, officers are now looking at all the responses they have received from the second round of consultation of their Draft Development and Site Allocations Plan. However, developers are not known for their patience to wait for the Plan to be finalised as they have put in two major applications for sites on the green edges of Bexhiil, in Little Common. As yet there is no clear view on when this Plan will go to Public Enquiry but it will determine particularly housing sites in Bexhill and all those villages which are not pursuing their own Neighbourhood Plans. After a very slow start with Neighbourhood Plans in Rother, with little support from the District planners, progress is at last being made, with in 2018, two made plans, at Sedlescombe and Robertsbridge and several others making progress to the final stages of consultation.

Two recent housing applications in the picturesque village of Burwash, home of Rudyard Kipling, demonstrate interesting and dare I say encouraging developments. The first, an on-the-edge of village development was refused by Rother against officer and Chair of the Planning Committee advice; the applicants then appealed but when faced with three protest groups claiming Rule 6 status for representation, climbed down and withdrew their appeal, citing cost as the reason. The second was a similar application in the same village where the developers already had outline consent but were refused full permission because they said they would not provide any affordable dwellings as opposed to the 40% required by the Local Plan. This was again against officer advice.

Stephen Hardy

January 2019