Controversial plan for 250 homes near Eastbourne is narrowly rejected

Controversial proposals to build 250 homes on the outskirts of Eastbourne have been refused by Wealden planners.

At a virtual meeting held on Thursday (May 21), Wealden District Council opted to reject an outline application from developer Wates Developments to build a 250-home development at the Friday Street Farm site in Stone Cross.

Calls to refuse the scheme were put forward by Bob Bowdler (Con, Horam and Punnetts Town), who drew attention to objections raised by Eastbourne Borough Council and local residents.

Part of the site – including its main access via Pennine Way – fell within Eastbourne’s planning boundaries, with a duplicate application going to that authority as a result.

Cllr Bowdler said:

“You won’t be surprised to hear I am a bit confused about this, because we recently lost our local plan and primarily the reason was the lack of duty to co-operate.

“Here we have an adjacent authority that don’t like this application and again we are not cooperating.

“They have an objection and I don’t think we are listening to it.

“I don’t like this application at all.

“There is a large tranche of land behind the application site and I have a suspicion that we are likely to see more development if this one goes ahead.”

Cllr Bowdler also drew attention to an objection raised by Eastbourne borough councillor Alan Shuttleworth (Lib Dem), due to concerns around the development’s impact on local infrastructure and highways.

He went on to argue – with the support of several other councillors – that the scheme should be refused on the grounds it fell outside of the agreed development boundary.

But officers (who had recommended the scheme be approved) warned this reason could prove difficult to defend at appeal, especially given Wealden’s district-wide housing shortfall.

Officers also argued that Eastbourne’s position was not a clear-cut objection as its initial objection had been tied to the, then ongoing, examination of Wealden’s withdrawn local plan.

The authority’s more recent submission had only called for Wealden to combine its legal agreement to ensure it was involved in future decisions on on-site infrastructure provision.

While refused on a majority vote, some members of the committee expressed concerns about rejecting the scheme.

They included Johanna Howell (Con, Frant and Wadhurst), who said:

“I am not a great fan of [this scheme] but we are in want of a five-year land supply and all of the issues as I can see have been met.

“I am well aware that Eastbourne would like to keep a green belt around their city (sic) but build all over Wealden.

“I also have a slight issue on them taking us on the duty to cooperate as we were trying to protect the AONB and various other parts of our beautiful area.

“But I am not going for that as a tit-for-tat, I wouldn’t like you to think that.”

Committee chairman Susan Stedman (Con, Horam and Punnetts Town) expressed similar views about the local plan process, as part of a discussion  on the high number of objections (in excess of 180) to the scheme.

She said:

“We understand the concerns that local residents have, but in the penultimate letter I had, they say: ‘unfortunately Wealden have decided that we no longer allow Eastbourne their green belt’.

“Well unfortunately Eastbourne’s actions have actually amounted to us having to have thousands more houses just in Wealden alone.

“There is a limit on the land Wealden has and unfortunately it looks like we are going to have to build right up to the border and we would look to Eastbourne to cooperate with us.”

Cllr Stedman partly withdrew her comments following advice from officers, who suggested that “it would be unfair” and “not correct” to suggest that the local plan had failed due to objections raised by Eastbourne Borough Council alone.

Following further discussion the committee moved on to the votes, first rejecting the officer’s recommendation to grant outline planning permission by five votes to six.

The committee then rejected an alternative proposal – put forward by Cllr Gavin Blake-Coggins (Lib Dem. Hailsham East) – to defer a decision until Eastbourne Borough Council had determined its duplicate application. This proposal was rejected by four votes to seven.

The scheme was then refused outright on a vote of six to five.

The voting was briefly disrupted after committee member Neil Cleaver (Lib Dem, Hailsham North West) lost connection to the virtual meeting due to technical difficulties.

Speaking to the LDRS after the meeting, Cllr Cleaver confirmed his vote would not have changed the result, but criticised the technological resources members had been provided by the district council.

A separate application is currently still due to go before Eastbourne planners in the coming months.

(By Huw Oxburgh – Local Democracy Reporter)

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