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