Rother & Hastings Update December 2020

18th December 2020

CPRE Sussex activity in Rother & Hastings District

Rother was as involved, as any local planning authority, in the two reforms proposed by the Government during September, for two reasons.

First, the Government’s new algorithm to calculate the number of houses decided that Rother should be building new homes at the rate of 1173 each year, when the current average build out rate in Rother over the past three years has been only 245. This would mean that Rother would have to increase the building of homes by 479%, compared to current performance.

Secondly, 83% of Rother’s surface area is within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a designation which the Government, in its latest Planning Guidance of 2019, says ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty … have the highest status of protection in relation to (conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty.’

Powerful representations on both documents were sent by the Council itself together with critiques from the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, who form part of the current ruling coalition.

The MP for Bexhill and Battle, Huw Merriman, which encompasses the majority of Rother, and the MP for Hastings and Rye, Sally Ann Hart, both have voiced their opposition to the current Government proposals; and Stephen Hardy, the local trustee for CPRE Sussex, was able to meet Huw Merriman recently via Zoom, together with the Chair of Rother’s Planning Committee and the Planning Adviser to the High Weald AONB to discuss what further action the MP might take.

The problem is that Rother currently has granted permission for nearly 2000 houses which have not as yet been built. These are spread throughout the local authority area, but the majority are in Bexhill.

Rother have started on the journey towards fulfilment of the new Local Plan, in an effort to beat any deadlines which may be introduced by Government planning reforms. As an innovation to parish and town councils and to stakeholder groups such as CPRE Sussex, they circulated a very comprehensive ideas questionnaire in October; we await seeing the results and the effect of this work. CPRE Sussex of course participated.

A new initiative from Cllr Sue Prochak, Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs at Rother, is to create a collaboration with all Parish and Town Councils to determine the quality of verges within their boundaries. Taking advice from Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter, the idea is to promote best land management for these verges in the interest of the environment. It is also hoped to link up local authorities, and to be a model for further co-operation in an effort to do everything possible to fight the climate emergency.

Rother Planning Department are still somewhat lethargic in dealing with planning matters; why does it take them on average five weeks simply to validate a planning application, when neighbouring Ashford do it in two days? This is information from a Rye-based architect.

In the papers for the December Planning Committee meeting, there is a list of major outstanding planning applications, awaiting such matters as completion of Section 106 Agreements, receipt of amended plans. If all these outstanding applications were to be approved, it would result in a further 738 homes being approved. It is interesting, and perhaps significant, that this list of ‘major’ applications contains at least one for only ten dwellings.

CPRE Sussex is compiling a resumé of all planning appeals in the Rother area, where the issue of the degree of protection to the High Weald AONB was determinative. Since 2016 there have been 27 appeals against a refusal by Rother planners where the importance of the High Weald AONB was a reason for the initial refusal. In 24 cases, Rother Council’s decision was upheld and the appeals rejected. In only three cases over a period of five years, was the decision to refuse overturned. At least some solace, for those of us who really do believe that the beauty and tranquility of our local AONB needs to be protected.

Stephen Hardy MBE, Rother & Hastings District Group