Councillors on Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee North have deferred a decision on the next stage of a controversial housing development in Crowborough.
The scheme to build up to 119 homes on land north of Eridge Road was granted outline planning permission in March last year, and as a result the principle of developing the site is already approved.
However, the committee had a number of concerns about the detailed plans, particularly its surface water drainage arrangements which had not been finalised ahead of the meeting.
Some of these concerns were laid out by the Committee’s Chair Cllr Johanna Howell (Con), who also represents Crowborough North and Jarvis Brook on East Sussex County Council.
This has been a very controversial site and I think a lot of us have come to this with a great deal of reluctance to say the least.
Having sat on various committees in north and south I am well aware that drainage is a big issue. I am also well aware that within my county division we are constantly getting complaints about drainage in Crowborough
Crowborough is the highest point of Wealden, so for us to have complaints about poor drainage seems a bit funny really. So for us to be concerned about drainage is quite significant and I think should be taken extremely seriously.
I have great reservations that this might have come a little too early and I am concerned that we are leaving to conditions and the ether things that we should be concerned about today and should have clarity on today.Cllr Howell
Cllr Howell’s concerns around drainage extended to plans for an attenuation pond in a field, which had not been included in the outline site layout. She said she would need more details about this pond before making a decision.
Concerns about this pond, as it would involve building on the previously undeveloped field, had also been raised by public speakers and other councillors.
Several councillors argued the developer should come back with a reduced number of houses, so that this field could remain untouched.
In light of these concerns, the committee considered proposals to defer the scheme until further details could be secured.
Officers cautioned against this reason for deferral, however, arguing the state of the drainage plans were not ‘unusual’ for this stage of development and that conditions would ensure a working scheme was secured.
Planning Officer Sam Batchelor said:
Just picking up on some of the comments that have come forward today and that members are a bit hesitant about not necessarily knowing enough.
I feel maybe some of the comments which have been made by others haven’t necessarily helped much, because it makes it seem like this is information that is missing.
That certainly isn’t the case, it is just that because of the stages a planning consent has to go through you have to ask for information that is proportionate to what it is you are trying to assess at the time.Development Manager Sam Batchelor
He added that if the committee’s concerns were around the pond being dug at all, then it would be more appropriate to refuse. This would bring risk of appeal, he said.
Even so, there was a proposal put forward Conservative Councillor Gary Johnson and seconded by Green councillor Keith Obbard to refuse the scheme on the basis it would involve development in the other field.
Cllr Obbard said:
I get the impression from the members that when outline was given the field next to the farm was going to be virtually untouched.
Is there no way that we could have this attenuation pond in another place and do away with some of the houses?Cllr Obbard
However, the committee as a whole favoured deferring the scheme until detailed, technical drainage plans came forward.
Proposing deferral, Cllr Neil Waller (Con, Crowborough South West) said:
I think in this case, given the nature of the site and the controversial planning history I think it is incumbent on ourselves and owe it to residents to get this bit right.
This is the bit which is most concerning to everyone. Everyone has mentioned surface water and, as I say, I think the rest of the site is wholly commendable, but we just need to get this bit right.
Ordinarily these technical reports would come after the granting of reserved matters.
What I am asking for on this occasion, because it is such a unique site and special site and controversial site is that we have those reports in advance of granting, if we did, reserved matters.
What I am also asking is once this report is received that there is tripartite working between our officers, the applicant and East Sussex County Council SuDS [Sustainable Drainage Systems], so they can come back to us with a tripartite ‘this is the solution guys’.Cllr Waller
This proposal, which was a deferral purely on the surface water drainage, was passed by the Committee on a majority vote of eight to two.
The application site does indeed have a controversial planning history. The outline scheme was initially refused permission at its first hearing, but was later approved after 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 last year, however, the authority revealed the second hearing came about after developers Fairfax Acquisitions complained that Crowborough North Councillor Kay Moss had spoken against the application at an even earlier meeting in February, without correctly declaring how she lived opposite the site.
This, the Council said, could have left the Committee’s refusal open to judicial review.
Click to see the documents submitted as part of the planning application (Ref WD/2021/0897/MRM). You can also watch a video (webcast) of the discussion on Wealden District Council’s website: https://council.wealden.gov.uk (from 0:27:21)