Crowborough business could close to make way for houses

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Millbrook Garden Company Ltd have applied for planning permission to demolish their garden centre in Crowborough and build 33 homes on the land.

Existing buildings would be demolished and a block of four flats, terraced houses, semi-detached and detached houses would be built. As per policy 35% would be affordable housing.

Extract from Site Layout submitted with the application

A planning application has been submitted to Wealden District Council and went live on their website on Friday (27th November).

Tammy Woodhouse, Managing Director, said:

Millbrook is a family-run business that has been on this site for over 40 years.  Sadly, the COVID pandemic and subsequent closure of the garden centre for several months, along with the ongoing uncertainty of trading, has meant we have had to investigate alternative solutions.  At this time, we have not sold the site, nor have immediate plans to close, but we have to look at all the options as a business.

All the staff and concessions were informed of the application several weeks ago and we are keeping them informed as things progress. We are very aware that this is an uncertain time for all the team and will continue to support them through this.

We will continue to trade at the garden centre and hope you will continue to shop with us, if nothing else to support our team who have worked so hard in these challenging times and to whom we are extremely grateful.

There would be a new single access road onto Tubwell Lane. Sixty six parking spaces would be provided and the transport statement argues residential use would result in fewer vehicle journeys than the current business use. There would be a new footpath to the lower level corner of Mottins Hill to allow residents to walk to the railway station, school and local shops.

An open green space containing an oak tree is proposed, existing hedgerows would be retained and there would be additional landscaping along the boundaries. Bat surveys identified a single Common Pipistrelle emerging from an area of weatherboarding on one building, and in total four bat species were recorded during the surveys. The ecological plan submitted with the application recommends bat boxes be installed to increase roosting opportunities on the site.

Wealden District Council cannot currently demonstrate a 5-year housing supply. The application site was within the development boundary included in the emerging Local Plan 2018. However since pre-application advice was sought by the applicant last year, Wealden District Council was forced to withdraw their Local Plan. The application argues that because saved policies of the old 1998 plan are of a considerable age, the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development contained in the National Planning Policy Framework should be applied.

Most of the garden centre site is hard surfaced. The proposed scheme is designed to improve on the existing flow of surface water, which currently discharges to a highways drainage ditch.

The family business celebrated its 40th birthday last year and Sue Allen, who was the founder of the business with her husband Dick, wrote a blog for their website describing the history of the business. Tammy Woodhouse, the current Managing Director, is Sue and Dick’s daughter. They now have two larger sites in Gravesend and Staplehurst in Kent.

The pre-application advice said:

It is understood that the garden centre employs 7 people full time and 15 part time. The café has 2 full time posts and 4 part time. In addition there are administrative staff on site who would relocate to the other sites at Staplehurst and Gravesend in the event that the garden centre closed.

Millbrook said they had lost over a million pounds in sales by not being able to open in the Spring because of the Covid-19 lockdown (more). The company were frustrated and argued it wasn’t a level playing field with DIY chains been allow to re-open and supermarkets selling plants and compost.

The planning application can be viewed on Wealden District Council’s website (Ref: WD/2020/2164/MAO). The deadline for comments is the 18th December 2020.

Click to show an interactive map of major planning applications in the Crowborough area.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Royal Mires has put in applications for development three times. Now Millbrook seeks development. That would mean no garden centre or nursery in Crowborough. Apart from the addition of x number of houses to a Crowborough seemingly disappearing under concrete. Yes, we need homes, but we don’t need mansions, and in the current climate of chaos and confusion, developers are using all their wiles to avoid building profit denting ‘affordable’ housing, which we do need to prevent the town becoming a middle class middle age ghetto.
    Can’t Millbrook just hang on somehow? A vaccine is on the way. I’m not travelling to Gravesend nor Staplehurst for my gardening needs, and what if the other centres around start closing too? A business that contributes to physical and mental health should be encouraged to stay open.

  2. We need to to put an Emergency stop on any more housing being built ,just so Wealden District Council housing targets set by government. If the residents new and old care about the town. If you care about the future of your children. You may not have got involved ever before , but strength through numbers is a wonderful thing. And the head Wealden will not be able to ignore the Crowborough Community .
    I wish you the best Christmas you can have especially family’s that have lost loved ones.

  3. Wealden had already decided to include it in the Development Boundary in there withdrawn local plan. Planning permission for housing development substantially increases the value of the property compared to a going concern garden centre. So given what Wealden have done it not surprising that any owner would take advantage of the likely designation whether a business is viable or not. Most people would do the same. I wonder how many people objected to it inclusion in the draft plan?
    https://www.wealden.gov.uk/UploadedFiles/A12.-Proposal-Maps-January-2019-Crowborough-submission-1-1.pdf

  4. Just the one oak tree eh? Is this a joke? Reminds me of the episode from the “Come fly with me” series by Matt Lucas & David Walliams where the owner of Fly Low, Omar Baba, is doing his bit to counter emissions by planting one tree. Is the one solitary tree to remind us of what green areas in Crowborough we have lost?

    • Avril To be fair they would leave a lot more than one tree and have said they would do more landscaping work, particularly along the lower Rotherfield Road side of the triangle. The oak tree will be a feature in the central space. Most of the site is currently car parking or hard-standing for the outdoor plant area. Stephan@CrowboroughLife.com

  5. The owners of Millbrook have a made a lot of money out that loyal people of Crowborough and beyond. What will happen to all the loyal staff and all there knowledge. This is just pure greed the owners obviously not from Crowborough should hang there head in shame. The young people who have grown in the Town have not got a chance of getting on the property land. Wealden District are selling Social of Housing. East Sussex County Council sold our youth club now houseing.
    And developers greed.

  6. This is a further example of the developer led approach to the development of Crowborough. In the past qualified planners came forward with their local plan proposals for consultation ensuring all the component parts that make up a cohesive Town or City where properly included, recognising that some uses would have different market values but beneficial for the whole Town. This sensible approach was controlled in High Street by the Use Classes Order but it is much less restrictive today. I can remember in Crowborough when the first shops were allowed to be converted into Building Societies in many cases the shops were not unviable but the owners could get a much higher sale price if they got that type of office use. Given Covid 19 there is a shortage of public open space on the north side of Crowborough made worst by Wealden approving development in the AONB and increased housing developments and conversions in the Town Centre. In cities like Bath where the Council owns the Freehold of a substantial area of the City they are able enhance their planning role by using restrictive covenants in their leases to maintain the balance across the City. The type and form of development at Pine Grove where the land was own by Wealden District Council could have produced a better result for the Town. Wealden now in line with Government policy asks landowners to flag up potential development land, did Millbrook do that. I wonder if the subsequent list is in the public domain as to some landowners it could be like winning the lottery if their land is allocated. Also how transparent is that allocation process?
    As the local plan was not adopted it will be interesting to see if the representation made by the public in response to the inclusion of Millbrook in the development boundary is included in the officer’s report to committee. Because surely if you report the proposed boundary change you should also report the responses because no decision was made.

  7. It is about time that our Wealden District Council (WDC) councillors woke up to the fact that Crowborough residents are fed up being used as the dumping ground for WDC’s planning obligations. Obligations made all the worse by WDC’s incompetent planning that managed to produce an illegal Local Plan and thereby left us, their electorate, at the mercy of rapacious developers who will exploit WDC’s weakness to achieve their business goal which is to maximise profits. WDC’s planning failure is made worse by the supine nature of their response to developers who, smelling the blood of incompetence, are circling for the kill.

    I may have missed it but I don’t think the electorate has had an apology for the incompetent failure to produce a legal Local Plan nor any explanation of how it happened or who was to blame. The illegal Local Plan probably costs tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds of ratepayer’s money in external services and council officer’s time. Whatever it costs we are going to pay double because the whole process is starting again. We are urged to participate and get involved yet what assurance has been offered that this current Local Plan process will not end in another illegal outcome and be a further gross waste of money?

    It is not a coincidence that no less than two District Councillors representing parts of Crowborough have felt compelled to resign from their previous petty tribal political party. Cllrs Rose and Moss are now independent and I for one hope they stand for re-election as independents. Both resigned on matters of principle relating to how the WDC Planning Committee conducts its business. To slightly misquote Wilde “To lose one may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.”

    Come on WDC Planning Committee – the Wealden electorate deserve better and those in Crowborough are getting more than a little fed up with your performance.

  8. I believe both Cllr Rose and Moss were Chairmen of Wealden District Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, so for them needing to resign must be a matter of great concern.
    It is disputable whether Cllr Moss had Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in the 119 Housing Development Application on Eridge Road AONB by making a statement in February to the Committee, because she lived opposite the site and where the decision was then deferred. However what for me is much worst is the officers and the Leader according to their response to Cllr Moss resignation statement had knowledge of the issue and did not correct it at the March meeting, which Cllr Moss did not attend. The March meeting was delayed because of a pre-meeting in private I wonder what was discussed? I believe the issue whether valid or not having been brought to the Leader and officers notice they had a duty to correct it the beginning of the March meeting. Those of us who took the trouble to go to Hailsham and make a statement to the committee in March were obviously wasting our time and it seems to suggest I was mislead by the officer’s e-mail to me as to how a deferred item could be dealt with which I published in the Courier before the March meeting.
    “Whilst there is nothing specific about how deferred items are dealt with, it will be at the Committee’s discretion, as the decision maker, to decide whether they wish to consider the item in full again when it is presented to Committee or to only consider any new material planning information arising from their request (reason for deferral).”
    It was obvious to those who attended that the matter was considered again in full, without Cllr Moss in attendance who is not a member of the Planning Committee, and the application was refused.
    Wealden’s Head of Planning said after the March meeting WDC took “High Level Legal” advice on the applicants complaints about their procedure at the March meeting where the application was refused. Therefore it is important that WDC brief to Counsel (QC) and opinion is published in full to see the real reasons for it being being sent back to committee for redetermination under officer’s delegated powers rather than back to the committee to decide whether the applicants grounds were valid given Counsel’s opinion. The officers strongly supported the proposed development so is there a separation of powers issue here? This whole saga seems to revolve about WDC systems and processes, contained in their Constitution and planning protocols for which management is responsible for. So is it time for another vote of non-confidence and the resignation of the Executive member for planning who is also responsible for the local plan also?

  9. Sorry to be controversial, but something is very wrong down at Wealden. Interesting that Bob Standley is head of Wealden and an East Sussex County Council Councillor. Where funding for East Sussex County Council Adult Social is very short, yet Becky Shaw top person earns nearly £200000 per year ,Phillip Baker the Councils solicitor earns over £100000 plus Benefits, all these figures are in the public domain.
    I think as community we need to start joining the dots.

  10. Millbrook also currently has an application open to develop their nursery site in Trebblers Road, Crowborough. This was submitted in 2017 and Wealden has neither passed nor refused the application but kept it open. I believe that the owners of Millbrook have a family connection to a development company. Development of the garden centre site, in Tubwell Lane, including a detailed plan of the proposed development, was included in the very first local plan, many years ago (2009?), long before last year’s plan was submitted. Development here has been on the cards for many years.

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