Legal advice over Crowborough housing development

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Update: In August, Crowborough Town Council agreed to seek legal advice to find out if there were options to challenge the decision to allow up to 119 homes to be built on land next to Goldsmith Rec.

The minutes of the Planning & Development Committee on 28th September state that the Council’s Barrister advised that it is not an option to pursue a Judicial Review. The Secretary of State has also confirmed they are unwilling to intervene in the matter.

This unfortunately leaves Crowborough Town Council with no other options to challenge
the decision.

Nevertheless at a meeting the week before, the Full Council resolved to authorise Cllr Colin Stocks to write to Wealden District Council on the Council’s behalf requesting clarity on development being allowed on the High Weald AONB Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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Article from 12th August: An extraordinary meeting was held last night to consider what action Crowborough Town Council might take regarding planning permission granted to build up to 119 homes in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty AONB.

An application for a housing development next to Goldsmith Recreation Ground in Crowborough was approved by Wealden District Council (the planning authority) on 10th July.

What is very unusual, is the application was previouslyrefused by Councillors at a meeting in March.

Before the Planning Committee’s decision was issued, it is understood Wealden District Council was contacted by the developer Fairfax Acquisitions Ltd raising potential procedural errors. To prevent a legal challenge, Wealden District Council decided to reconvene the Planning Committee to re-determine the application.

Last night using video conferencing, Town Councillors discussed a recommendation from the Planning & Development Committee to spend up to £10,000 to obtain specialist legal advice.

Cllr Colin Stocks (Jarvis Brook, Green Party) explained the reason for the request:

The aim of this is to try and defend Crowborough’s areas from planning developments which we believe are inappropriate and where it doesn’t look like due process have been followed by the planning authority.

The Mayor Cllr Greg Rose (Crowborough South East, Independent) said we don’t know the reason why the decision was made to refer it back to the committee, but that it was “bizarrely secretive”.

Cllr Stocks quoted from the Planning Officer’s report – he said this was the full extent of the explanation:

After application WD/2017/2197/MAO came before Planning Committee North on 5 March, concerns were raised about the decision-making process.

The Council was notified of this shortly after the committee meeting. Having obtained legal advice, the resolution to refuse was not acted upon so no decision was issued because the Council decided to take the application back to Planning Committee North.

Cllrs Martyn Garrett (Crowborough North, Independent) said he felt uncomfortable with one council taking legal action against another:

At the end of the day, whoever wins the only loser is the council tax payer.

He continued by arguing Crowborough Town Council needed an explanation before they seek legal opinion, and in addition other parishes needed to be motivated:

The AONB is under attack and it’s dear to our hearts.

Cllr Stocks refuted the idea that the only people to gain would be the lawyers. He said the whole community of Crowborough stand to gain:

We really shouldn’t let something so damaging stand without putting-up a fight.

During the meeting, Town Councillors heard that the Co-Directors of the AONB had taken the unusual step of writing to members of Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee to express their dismay at the decision. In the letter, Sally March and Jason Lavender wrote:

We were particularly concerned by some of the comments made during the debate which included ‘the site is not very beautiful, and you can’t see it anyway’ and ‘anything you can do to take the pressure off the south of the district’.

The AONB Unit is funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the 15 local authorities in the High Weald. In the last financial year Wealden District Council share towards their budget was £7,200.

Cllr Rose asked if you start building on the AONB where would it stop:

… when you decide to put a housing estate on it, the field next to it becomes less nice because it has a view of a housing estate.

Cllr Matthew Street (Crowborough St Johns, Conservative) proposed the Town Council should formally write to Wealden District Council asking for an explanation why the planning application was re-voted on and why membership of the committee was changed. The motion was carried by a 9-2 vote.

Full Council also approved the recommendation by the Planning and Development Committee that up to £10,000 is taken from General Reserves to fund specialist legal advice. The vote was: 8 For, 2 Against and 1 Abstention.

A further proposal by Cllr Rose to ask the Secretary of State to call-in the 10th July decision was also approved. This can be done when an application conflicts with national policy in important ways, or is nationally significant.

Map showing the site in the High Weald AONB (click to make interactive)
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8 COMMENTS

  1. Well done Crowborough Town Council. Fed up with the way Wealden continually ignores the views of its residents and the adverse environmental impact of sprawling housing estates on green land, that rarely even benefits the younger members of our communities. If housing targets cannot be met by the redevelopment of brown fill land or without suitable infrastructure in place, then district councils need to lobby government to make them understand the detrimental effect an ever increasing population will have on already congested areas of our very small land mass.

  2. I agree with most of what Lynda Brown says. There has been a stink around Wealden Planning for decades. The situation is dire right now with developers seemingly taking advantage of the Coronavirus situation and Wealden DC’s local plan being in abeyance, to push forward on every piece of ‘vacant’ land in Crowborough. Every proposal somehow manages to get round the rules so that very few ‘affordable’ houses are built (and I have in mind also the Jenrick/Desmond scandal). While it might be advantageous for County and District councils to obtain higher council tax from all the mansions springing up, younger people are increasingly forced out to cheaper areas. I don’t want to live in an affluent middle class ghetto. As for Planning Committee North’s shenanigans, the very secretive nature of their feeble excuses for a recall of the committee and the unusual complaint from the developer raise deeply worrying questions. I’m happy to have my council tax money used by Crowborough TC to fight this burgeoning corruption, It needs stamping out as soon as possible. They have my support, and I hope the population of Crowborough will be behind them.

  3. I agree with Lynda Brown and Jane Clare.There is indeed a stink around WDC planning. It is the stink of incompetence. WDC planners did not merely produce a weak Local Plan or even one lacking local support. They produced an illegal Local Plan. I can think of no clearer definition of incompetence than for elected officials and their appointed officers to spend rate payer’s money on producing an illegal document!
    In doing so WDC has exposed all of us to the predatory avarice of developers.

    As well as challenging WDC’s actions the Town Council must extract from WDC a clear undertaking that every £ of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of Community Interest Levy(CIL) arising from these developments is passed to the Town Council. It is Crowborough that will bear the true cost of WDC planning’s incompetence so let us at least have all of the dubious benefits.

    Crowborough is fed up being the dumping ground for WDC planning’s development obligations especially when much of these obligations stem from the incompetent failure of an illegal Local Plan.

  4. Yes, well done Crowborough Town Council. I hate the way Crowborough is sprawling, especially with no added supporting infrastructure, and to build on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is disgraceful.

    • Let Tunbridge Wells be a warning, over planning, no infrastructure improvements and chaotic roads…….ruination of a town. Which is why we moved from there to nice quiet Crowborough 2 years ago, growing population of people moving out of London the game changer……inevitable i suppose. But fight the planners all they think about is money and have no regard for peoples quality of life.

  5. The last few days where local residents have been without water, due to a lack of pressure in the supply says it all. Crowborough does not have the infrastructure to support these ever increasing developments.

  6. It’s not finished yet. Why don’t you form a ‘fighting group’ to monitor and be ready to object to any further attempts to add yet more unwanted housing estates on Crowborough

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