Wealden District Update May 2021

20th May 2021

CPRE Sussex report on activity in Wealden District

Wealden Local Plan

The Direction of Travel consultation closed on 11 January and Wealden District Council received 1702 responses to the questions from 304 respondees, one of whom was CPRE Sussex. The largest numbers of responses were to the climate change questions (197 responses), housing (196) infrastructure (173) and the growth options (162).

A summary of the responses can be found at: Direction of Travel Consultation.pdf (wealden.gov.uk)

One of the questions within the growth section was for the provision of one or more new settlements of 2,000 – 5,000 dwellings. A landowner has teamed up with Grosvenor Britain and Ireland to promote a 2,500 dwelling, plus business premises, development between Hailsham and the Dicker for Wealden District Council to include as an allocation within the new Local Plan. This part of Grosvenor (part of The Grosvenor Estate) is a strategic land consultant which means that they will not undertake the development themselves but will assist the landowner to sell to a developer(s) after gaining outline permission.

Grosvenor’s brochure can be seen at: Grosvenor – North West Hailsham. It should be remembered that outline permission will not deal with most of the issues or “benefits” contained in the brochure as these will be the subject of the subsequent reserved matters applications. There is, therefore, no guarantee that anything shown in this brochure, apart from the 2,500 dwellings, will be delivered.

Undoubtedly, other landowners and developers will also be pitching developments similar to Grosvenor’s to Wealden District Council for inclusion within the new plan. The Firle Estate attempted a few years ago to persuade Wealden District Council that Berwick Station was a suitable location for a new settlement and this could be brought back into contention.

The various Chambers of Commerce and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership continue to press for a new offline dual carriageway to replace the existing A27. Whereas for those people who find the existing road hard work and may welcome a new road, they should bear in mind that for one to obtain approval, the business case will have to show a positive benefit – cost ratio and this can be achieved by demonstrating how much new development will be unlocked by the new road. As the new road is highly unlikely to have any junctions between Polegate and Lewes, this means that the “beneficial additional development” will need to be around the already highly developed Polegate/Stone Cross/Hailsham area.

Wealden District Council say that in spring next year, they intend to publish a draft vision, objectives and spatial strategy with a draft plan then being available in 2023. However, this timetable may be impacted by the requirements in the forthcoming Planning and/or Environment Bills.

Recent permissions – 2020 Permissions

In 2020, Wealden District Council’s planning committees resolved to grant permission for a total of 589 dwellings in the north of the district and 2,906 in the south. making 3,495 in all. These large figures do not include the many approvals for the smaller sites delegated for officer determination.

2021 Permissions

Compared to last year, this year so far has not seen many permissions. Planning Committee South (PCS) has so far met three times and resolved to grant permission for 56 dwellings and Planning Committee North twice where they have resolved to grant permission for 95 dwellings.

However, there are some large applications still to be determined with two sites at Hailsham for 241 and 200 dwellings and two in Willingdon for 180 and 700 dwellings.

Two sites have recently been refused permission by Wealden, one for 50 dwellings at South Street, East Hoathly and the other for 35 dwellings at Coopers Green. The South Street developer is persistent; an application for 74 dwellings was dismissed on appeal two years ago and a further appeal on the same site for 55 dwellings is yet to be determined.

An application for 94 dwellings in the AONB by Heathfield has been withdrawn, but it is anticipated that the developer could be trying the salami approach and bring it back with a smaller number of dwellings on part of the site.

Forthcoming applications

There are potentially some further large applications in the pipeline where screening opinions have been requested:

– 400 dwellings at Sharnfold Farm, Stone Cross on a PYO, farm/coffee shop, farm trail and play area
– 450 dwellings at Downlands Farm, Uckfield on an 80ha grassland and wooded site which includes ancient woodland
– 450 dwellings on farmland at Horstedpond Farm, Uckfield
– two solar farms in the Low Weald around Dicker and Selmeston.

Ashdown Forest

We remain convinced that Wealden District Council is granting permission unlawfully as their approvals for practically every housing application within the District are non-compliant with the protection afforded Ashdown Forest by the Habitats Regulations. The potential harm from development arises from additional traffic emissions resulting in eutrophication damaging the protected flora and increased visitor pressure from development harming the protected birds. Two meetings have been held with senior officers to enlarge on the points contained in our submitted objections, but we have been unable to persuade them of their error.

However, the Habitats Regulations (together with substantial settled case law) is clear on the evidence required before a conclusion of no harm can be reached. Government guidance states:

“An appropriate assessment must contain complete, precise and definitive findings and conclusions to ensure that there is no reasonable scientific doubt as to the effects of the proposed plan or project.”

The appropriate assessment that Wealden District Council has used in order to grant all permissions since January 2020 contains no evidence at all, let alone any showing there is no reasonable scientific doubt. A planning committee member repeatedly asked for Wealden District Council’s evidence at the planning meeting on 1 April, but officers did not provide any.

We will continue to press the Council on this issue as we believe that without effective mitigation, permission for development anywhere within the District should not be given.

Nick Daines, Wealden North & John Hurwood, Wealden South