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End this Ecclesbourne Glen mess

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Posted: 15 June 2014 at 10:37 am in Blog, News  •  8 Comments

STATEMENT ON APPLICATION FOR RETROSPECTIVE PLANNING PERMISSION ON ROCKLANDS CARAVAN SITE

Whatever decision the planning committee will take next week on the retrospective planning permission application at Rocklands, no one will be celebrating. This situation is a mess that has caused everyone involved anguish and there is no magic wand which will bring about perfect harmony. It is my personal belief that the site should never have been built upon in the first place.

From a young age, I have enjoyed our beautiful green spaces in Hastings, and the Country Park in particular has special memories for me and my family – many involving family dogs which we used to walk there and have now sadly passed – even without four legged friends I still find time to walk there whenever I need to clear away the cobwebs and it will always serve as a place that reminds me why I am standing for Parliament in the town I grew up in and love dearly. Hastings has amazing parks and open spaces for a town of its size and we should do all we can to preserve them for us and future generations to enjoy.

On the landslip and cutting down of trees, this was clearly wrong. The council have accepted that the site needs regular inspections and that the tree felling was in breach of planning permission. The survey undertaken to establish causes for landslips has been helpful in targeting action afterwards. I will therefore focus on the issue of planning permission.

Many failings have caused the current situation, but the original application for this current building – sited as it is on the footprint of a former bungalow – received no objections from anyone when it was submitted, which gave it free passage through the process. This meant that planning officers at the council took the decision to grant permission alone; without any input from councillors. In my opinion, the planning officers made an error in granting permission, but due to the lack of objections from the public it was their decision to make.We need to ensure more people are informed of such sensitive planning applications and therefore given the chance to object.

I regret that this level of public anger and profile came too late to stop the construction of the current building. Anyone who says that the building can lawfully now be demolished because of breaches of planning permission is as mistaken as the original decision to build on the site was. My personal opinion is that the retrospective application is refused, but planning committees are semi-judicial, and members on it cannot give a preconceived view or they are excluded from the decision.

So, we need to move ahead. Instead of the political point scoring of others who have stood silently on the sidelines on so many serious issues from foodbanks to fracking and much more, I would like to offer a positive way forward working with the council, campaigners and future planning applications.

Before I offer this I should say that while the vast majority of objectors and campaigners have been positive and constructive, I’ve also had a few reports of abuse and harassment which I stress I do not condone in any way. Not only is it unpleasant, it also damages the cause. I commend the involvement of large numbers of residents in placing well thought objections to the retrospective application and I’m sure these will be carefully considered when the committee meets. This is the appropriate way to intervene in a planning application.

However, this situation has highlighted some serious flaws in national planning regulation and how councils communicate planning applications with the general public. Planning too often talks in a language of regimented process which is at odds to the emotion and heart-felt passion in campaigns like this. There will always be difficult decisions to be made, but we need to ensure that a situation like this never happens again and that we now make the best of a terrible situation. So I have already started work on the following improvements and changes. I will always value your input, so if you have any comments or additional suggestions, please let me know:

Making people better informed of development on or beside parkland

The council undertook the statutory advertising to give people the chance to have their say on the original planning application, but it is clear that not enough people knew about it or saw the planning notices. To be honest, for someone of limited height I usually struggle to read them when they are posted publicly, but I think that more could and should be done to engage the wider the community in planning decisions, especially when it is near an AONB or public land. I welcome the council’s decision to bring in the national Planning Advisory Service to assist with improvements of this kind.

In addition to this, I will be asking Hastings Borough Council to amend their planning policies to include communication to a much wider audience so that in future, objections can be made at an early stage. This could be through social media etc, but it would be good to know how would you like future sensitive planning applications in your area to be communicated?My personal preference would be to use email and social media more, in order to keep financial and environmental costs down, but again please let me know your thoughts.

Sanctions for breaches of planning permission

Red tape and rules are not usually something people like, but in this instance the breach of planning regulations has shown that they are often there for good reason. I believe that deliberate breaches of planning agreements should be dealt with much more firmly, not just in Hastings but nationally, and given heavier sanctions.

Making use of local knowledge

Some of the campaigners involved in ‘Save Ecclesbourne Glen’ are experienced environmentalists who care about our country park and have experience in horticulture. If possible and if people wished to be involved, campaigners and the community should be invited to be involved and fully consulted on replanting and reforestation schemes on the site.

Recent changes by government to planning law

There have been some recent changes by the coalition that could see developments like this taken from the hands of local communities and councils entirely. The changes mean that Eric Pickles the Secretary of State now has the power to decide if a council is too slow or delaying passing planning applications, to allow developers to bypass local councils altogether and be fast tracked to the national planning inspectorate.

I believe that this is a worrying move that puts developers in too powerful a position and I fully support our Shadow Minister Hilary Benn’s fight to give the power back to local communities, who should have the final say over planning developments. If you are interested in inputting to potential reform of planning law, this is a good article from Hilary outlining our directions of travel on this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10104826/Hilary-Benn-The-Coalition-have-got-it-wrong-over-planning.html and you can also make your views clear to our Shadow Ministerial team directly and easily on yourbritain.org.uk

  • http://www.friendsofspeckledwood.org.uk Friends Of Speckled Wood

    Please tell them to leave Speckled Wood alone too. The planning situation is in a complete mess and ignores the public’s wishes clearly conspiring with developers to just put up more houses . How can this be diplomatic . We demand changes . A recent view of Speckled Wood by a Forward Planner was complete rubbish . It was clear he had never been to the site. Sadly this person is also responsible for making the decision if an area is a community asset in our Council the same person that makes future planning decisions . Is this not lunacy? Luckily the Trust went around the Planning department to register with a goverment organisation. You can help register this as an asset . Just tell us what you have done in Speckled Wood here https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HLMV225 . When we have enough responses we can register this area as a community asset. Everyone in the Village of Ore already knows it is 3560 people have voted leave it alone. Remove it from the DMP leave areas like this alone. (source http://friendsofspeckledwoodmanagementtrust.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/update-on-consultation.html)

  • KarenKts11

    I think the public definitely need to be better informed of potential building projects on public land. Social media would be one way to reach more people. I also think the planning notifications that they do put up, on lamp posts etc, should be made easier to understand. They are so technical that it can be hard to get to the nub of what they are saying. I realise the detail required is probably legally specified but a clear, simple summary would help. Also planning notices in local newspapers are in the back pages and very technical. That doesn’t matter so much for domestic planning applications concerning such things as tree lopping and conservatories. When the application is in regards to public land, however, the current situation is totally inadequate. There should be a simple advertisement near the front of the paper where people can see and understand it. Many people would have objected to this proposal and the fact that not one person did, surely demonstrates clearly that the current system of notifications isn’t working.
    As to the building itself. It is totally inappropriate in that location and that should have been apparent to the planning officer concerned, public objections or no public objections. The fact that previous planning restrictions have been completely disregarded should be taken very seriously. It should mitigate against the applicants for retrospective planning permission.
    One business cannot and should not be allowed to wreck such a site for generations of locals and visitors, not to mention the damage inflicted to wildlife by the wanton destruction of trees.

  • anny evason

    the fact remains that only TWO planning notifications were sent out. Please read the objection from the CPRE which refers to this. How can the planning approval have been legal when noone was informed?

    • Paul

      Yes, I think that’s what Sarah is saying needs to be changed – there needs to be a more pro-active approach to planning and our open spaces.

      • http://www.friendsofspeckledwood.org.uk Friends Of Speckled Wood

        Paul “not just a proactive approach” . We need planners that are not blinkered who can only see one thing Housing. Democracy fails if the people are not listened to by failing to listen to This is why there is a Localism Act brought in by the Government.

  • http://www.friendsofspeckledwood.org.uk Friends Of Speckled Wood

    Everyone should note this is not democracy at work . We took 666 objections to a recent Outline Planning Application. These where ignored

  • Craigsams

    This is just a proposal for closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – ‘in future’ doesn’t solve the here and now. I am in favour of local decision making but this fiasco suggests that only central government can be trusted when decisions like this have to be made. Clearly ‘giving power to local communities’ in this case does not mean ‘giving power to local communities’ because we are the local community. If we had any power at all this would never have happened.

  • Derek Brown

    Sadly this is a complete failure in localism and shows the local authority cannot be trusted in making decisions on such important matters.