A major housing development in Crowborough has been approved, marking the end of a long-running and controversial planning process.
Today (Thursday 13th), Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee North approved a reserved matters application connected to proposals to build 119 homes on land north of Eridge Road.
While eventually approved on a majority decision, views were split among committee members over whether the plans were acceptable.
Much of the opposition surrounded plans to dig ponds (as part of the Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) on land referred to as ‘field four’, which had not been included within site layout of an outline application approved in 2020. All the development is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but this field is adjacent to Luxford Farmhouse, a Grade 2 Listed Building.
Some committee members were of the view that this field should be ‘protected’ and that the developer should submit a different scheme to avoid development of any kind within it.
Gareth Owen-Williams (Lib Dem, Crowborough Jarvis Brook) said:
With the size of those ponds it feels like there is hardly any aspect of that field that will not be affected in some way.
It is part of the AONB, there are CO2 implications. It feels like they have maximised every part of that field that they can, purely to protect the number of houses they can squeeze into the rest of the plot.Cllr Owen-Williams
Officers warned against this approach, however, arguing that such an approach would not be successful at appeal, especially as no statutory bodies had raised objections about harm from the ponds.
Stacey Robins, the Council’s Head of Planning, said:
If the committee remains unhappy with how the development has spread into this field, you will withhold the reserved matters. You will refuse the reserved matters.
But to do that, you will have to articulate a harm. You can’t say, or we can’t say as a council: ‘We weren’t expecting to see anything in that field’, because an inspector at an appeal — which is inevitable — will say: ‘What’s the problem with what you see?’Mr Robins, Head of Planning
It was also highlighted how the Council’s lack of a five-year supply of housing land meant there was a ‘presumption in favour’ of the development.
Committee Chairman Johanna Howell (Con, Frant & Wadhurst) said:
There is encroachment into the AONB and there will continue to be encroachment into the AONB, because people need homes.
I think most of us didn’t originally live here and most of the places we live in were fields. It is just a fact of life that people need homes and there will be people desperate to live in these houses.
That said, we also had, further down into the AONB, a site that we fought long and hard over and subsequently did not win. This is considered to be a sustainable location.
You have to make balances and that is what we as a committee are asked to do. Given choices we wouldn’t do any of this, but we have to make balances.
“If we don’t consider this in the round and properly then we are failing in our duty as Wealden district councillors.Cllr Howell
Following further discussion the application was approved in a majority vote.
The decision marks the final stage of a complex and controversial planning history for the site.
When first considered, the outline proposals were refused planning permission, but were later approved after a fresh hearing was called under unusual circumstances.
For months the Council declined to explain its reasons for holding a fresh hearing, beyond saying it had received legal advice after concerns were raised around ‘the decision-making process’.
In November 2020 however, the authority revealed the second hearing came about after original applicant Fairfax Acquisitions complained that Crowborough North councillor Kay Moss had spoken against the application at an even earlier meeting the same year, without correctly declaring how she lived opposite the site.
This, the Council said, could have left the original committee’s refusal open to judicial review.
The scheme had last been before the committee in November, where a reserved matters application was deferred due to concerns around the details of water drainage plans.
Since that meeting, further details of the plans had been submitted by the developer and signed off by East Sussex County Council, in their role of Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA).
You can watch a video of the meeting on Wealden District Council’s website.