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Decision on major Crowborough development reversed

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

The outline application to build up to 119 homes North of A26 Eridge Road, was referred back to the Committee because of concerns about the decision making process (more to follow on this).

The developer Fairfax Acquisitions Ltd wrote to the planning authority after the application was previously refused by Councillors at a meeting in March.

To prevent a legal challenge, the Council reconvened the Committee to re-determine the application. Councillors were told to have an “open mind”, and consider all the evidence presented to them during the meeting.

The site consists of four fields. It is outside the development boundary for Crowborough and is in the High Weald AONB Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To the East is Luxford Farmhouse, a Grade II listed building. The initial scheme was previously amended, so no houses will be constructed in the fourth field adjacent to Luxford Farmhouse, to preserve the heritage building.

During the virtual meeting, Cllr Peter Roundell (Marefield, CONS) said:

If we approve this application, the precedent created potentially opens-up any sustainable new development in the AONB – be it in the North of the District or indeed the South; be it for a major development or a much smaller development.

Regretfully, I fear, before we know where we are, our beautiful and valued countryside will be concreted over with the wrong type of housing in the wrong places.

Anybody who lives in the AONB should be very worried, we will be at the mercy of developers for the next two to three years, because of draft local plan failed and we are in the unenviable position of not having a five year land supply.

Cllr Roundell was quoting from written notes, when he turned pages he was challenged by the Chairman as to whether by using a prepared script, it could be considered that he was predetermined. She sought the opinion of the Council’s Planning Solicitor, who said that it was a personal decision for each individual member as to whether they have an “open mind”.

The case officer, Mr Stacey Robins, is also the Council’s Head of Planning. In response to Cllr Roundell’s concerns that the outcome could set a dangerous precedent for future building in AONB, Mr Robins sought to reassure members that each future application should be judged on its individual merits.

Click to make the map interactive

The development will include 42 affordable homes as well providing as six self-build plots. Open amenity space will be provided and a contribution will be made by the developer to fund additional adult and children recreational facilities in Crowborough.

As previously the Head of Planning recommended Councillors grant approval.

At an earlier meeting in February Councillors deferred making a decision to enable more information to be gained from East Sussex Highways about the speed limit on the A26.

Cllr Neil Waller (Crowborough South West, CONS), joined the remote video conference by telephone because of technical difficulties:

Let’s deal with the facts of this case. It is within the AONB. The site is adjacent to a listed building and the site is outside the development boundary, and given those facts we should refuse unless there are material considerations. 

The material consideration is the lack of a five-year land supply, at 3.67 years. Our source document for that is the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], which says we should approve unless the adverse impact exceeds the benefit. 

Cllr Waller mentioned that other developments around Crowborough have already been approved in the AONB, namely Steel Cross. He argued that “this AONB is far from beautiful” being right next to the A26, and in terms of impact, why did the Council agree to put a “whacking great leisure centre right on the hill overlooking it”.

He then spoke about the benefits he saw in the scheme:

35 per cent affordable housing; it is the most sustainable location in Crowborough; it will add to local economy and jobs; there will be CIL [Community Infrastructure Levy] receipts; there will be the provision of public open space and there will be highway improvements, although not everybody believes they are improvements.

For me this subjective decision comes down to the fact, in my mind, that the benefits do outweigh the impact.

He proposed the approval of the application in line with officer’s recommendation. The motion was seconded by Cllr Stedman.

Following further debate, the application was approved by a 7-5 vote.

The Committee Agenda and Reports can be downloaded from Wealden District Council’s website: council.wealden.gov.uk.

It was the only application on the agenda of Planning Committee North. You can watch a video of the 10th July meeting here:

Video Timeline

00:00: The Chairman Cllr Joanna Howell (Frant & Wadhurst, CONS) welcomed committee members and the Democratic Services Officer conducted a roll call to committee members.

4:43: Committee member Cllr Helen Firth (Uckfield New Town, CONS) raised a concern about a leaflet distributed by the developer.

7:25: Statement by the Council’s Principal Solicitor for Planning giving the reasons why the application was being referred back to committee.

10:20: Committee members asked in turn to confirm they had an “open mind”.

12:11: Presentation from the the Head of Planning, Mr Stacey Robins, including slides showing the location of the site and outline of the proposed scheme. (He referred to CR11 – a saved policy relating to safeguarding of the land for a potential expansion of Goldsmiths Recreational Ground.)

18:50: The Planning Officer continued to describe the access to the site from the highway, and the proposed upgrades to nearby bus stops and pedestrian crossings on the A26.

20:35: The Planning Officer concluded his presentation with information regarding the NPPF National Planning Policy Framework. In particular, he drew members attention to the Government’s planning policies which needed to be taken into account relating to development in protected landscapes, in this case the High Wealden AONB. As well as the implications of the lack of five year supply in the District on the Council’s ability to resisting new housing development.

25:00: The Chairman drew the members attention to written submissions from Julian Goodhew, the owner of Luxford Farm, George Moss and Jeannette Towey objecting to the application. Videos were submitted by Tim Rodway, Planning Consultant and Michael Kitching
Transport Planning/Traffic Engineering Consultant for the applicant, that can be downloaded and viewed.

25:49: Beginning of the discussion by committee members.

26:26 Cllr Susan Stedman (Horam & Punnets Town, CONS) sought clarification on the number of affordable homes.

27:00: Cllr Gary Johnson (Uckfield Ridgewood & Little Horsted, CONS) said the applications sets a dangerous precedent it is outside the development boundary and an incursion into the AONB. He proposed the application be refused.

29:19: Cllr Peter Roundell (Marefield, CONS) also mentioned the implications for “our beautiful and valued countryside” and said due to withdrawn of the latest Local Plan, the Council is dependent on development boundaries dating from 1998 and 2013.

35:20: Cllr Roundell concluded by asking some questions: Why Natural England hadn’t mentioned the AONB in their submissions?

35:58: The Chairman sought the opinion of the Council’s Planning Solicitor as to whether quoting from notes could be challenged as been predetermination. Clare McGough said that it was a personal decision for each individual member.

37:30: Cllr Gareth Owen-Williams (Crowborough Jarvis Brook, LIBDEM) mentioned the recreational value of the fields and one of the attractions of the camping & caravanning site is the open countryside on it’s doorstep. On the other hand he cited the need for houses. He seconded Cllr Johnson’s proposal to refuse the application.

41:34: The Chairman took a few moments to confirm that the fall of the Local Plan meant the District was now having to accept more housing.

42:23: Cllr Neil Waller (Crowborough South West, CONS) commented by phone (see main part of article). After weighing up the pros and cons he proposed on balance a motion to approve the application.

46:00: The Planning Officer responded to the questions raised by members of the committee thus far. He confirmed there would be 35% affordable housing in line with policy. In response to the members who said this would set a dangerous precedent to building in AONB, he argued that each site should be judged on its individual merits.

48:37: The Chairman interjected to askwhether because it was in the AONB each site must be given huge weight. She also asked the Officer to speak about the lengths the Council went to over the Steel Cross development.

49:08: Mr Robins clarified what the NPPF required. He spoke about the “tortuous” history to contest the development on that site in the AONB. Finally he addressed the question why Natural England was quiet in relation to the site being in the AONB.

53:12: Cllr Stedman said she disagreed with Cllr Roundell’s assessment and then said Crowborough was one of the most sustainable areas in the District. Although she wanted to know about sewage and the odour control report as well as flood risk, she would second Cllr Waller’s proposal to approve the application.

55:00 Cllr Helen Firth said this application goes against quite a few of the Council’s planning policies.

57:25: Cllr Dr Patricia Patterson-Vanegas (Forest Row, GRREN) referred to the Town Council’s objection to the development because of the issue of Great Crested Newts and because of the loss of another area of green space. She also mentioned how because of the pandemic the public value green spaces even more. She referred to paragraph 172 of the NPPF and asked the Officer what the “exceptional circumstances” are. Cllr Dr Patterson-Vanegas also sought clarification whether design was a reserved matters, particularly in relation to energy efficiency.

1:02:27: The Planning Officer addressed questions raised by members, including: the size of the buffer field (about 1.4 hectares), the fourth field also provides a buffer to the sewage treatment plant. He told members the Local Lead Flood Authority object on the absence of information in relation to surface water drainage – but if approved there will be a condition to require this information. The report contains lots of information about populations of Great Crested Newts in the area – but in short there is conflicting opinion. Further survey work will be done as part of the future stage of the planning application. In response to the test of “exceptional circumstances” Mr Robins said he couldn’t think of a more sustainable 100+ site in the District as close to facilities (the exception being the railway station in Jarvis Brook). He clarified that house design, exactly how many houses could be built (“up to 119”) and the fabric of construction – are all reserved matters to be determined at a later stage.

1:10:28: Cllr Owen-Williams mentioned he had visited Luxford Farmhouse. He also said he felt this site was special (beauty, wildlife, historical significance) and should only be utilised if there weren’t other sites that could be built on.

1:12:00: Cllr Richard Hallett (Crowborough St Johns, CONS) said this site is already in an suburban setting, being next to the A26 with housing stretching down the opposite side of the road. It is also right next to a steel and glass structure (the leisure centre). He argued the real value is the views that it affords residents. He agreed with Mr Robins in terms of the sustainability of the site in terms of “walkability” to the Town Centre and direct access to the A26.

1:14:42 Cllr Angela Snell (Polegate Central, CONS) wanted clarification on a couple of points: 1. About the court cases referred to objectors relating to the lack of five year land supply when making a decision and 2. What space within the site would be open to the public.

1:1:52: Cllr David Watts (Arlington, CONS) said his point had been raised by another member.

1:16:10: The Planning Officer said the fourth field (closest to the Luxford Farmhouse) would be formally secured for the public to use. The court cases referred to by objectors were to do with the legal challenges over Steel Cross and the Planning Inspector was right to look across the whole District when it came to looking at housing supply.

1:19:00: The Chairman wanted to know what mechanism would protect the fourth field, so it could not be built on in the future. Cllr Howell said she knew the area very well having lived here all her life. Although not happy about building in the AONB she said this was a sustainable site and there was a need for new houses – “sometime the need out ways the harm that may be done”. She wanted some clarification because this site has “always been a fairground” and travellers have parked on the field for many years.

1:20:30: Cllr Dr Patterson-Vanegas wanted to be reassured that insulation would be a reserved matter. She also wanted clarification why an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) wasn’t required. She said she still believed the need didn’t out way the harm to the climate.

1:23:25: The Planning Officer came back on the above points. The open space and money towards upkeep, would be secured by a Section 106 agreement with the developer. The applicant chooses what are reserved matters by ticking the boxes in the relevant section on the application form. The screening opinion for EIA was done by a Planning Officer (delegated) at an earlier stage.

1:26:56: Voting – A motion to approval the application was proposed by Cllr Waller and seconded by Cllr Stedman. (As is standard practice a motions in line with the Officer’s recommendation are voted on first, and only if they fail are other motions voted on).

Voting Record

CouncillorVote
Cllr Firth (Uckfield New Town, CONS)Against
Cllr Hallett (Crowborough St Johns, CONS)For
Cllr Johnson (Uckfield Ridgewood and Little Horsted, CONS)Against
Cllr Owen-William (Crowborough Jarvis Brook, LIBDEM)Against
Cllr Dr Patterson-Vanegas (Forest Row, GREEN)Against
Cllr Dr Redman (Mayfield & Five Ashes, CONS)For
Cllr Roundell (Maresfield, CONS)Against
Cllr Snell (Polegate, CONS) Substitute MemberFor
Cllr Stedman (Horam & Punnets Town, CONS) Seconded the motionFor
Cllr Waller (Crowborough South West, CONS) Committee Deputy Chairman Prosposed the motionFor
Cllr Watts (Arlington, CONS) Substitute MemberFor
Cllr Howell (Frant & Wadhurst, CONS) Commitee ChairmanFor
3 comments on “Decision on major Crowborough development reversed
  1. Please note the majority of ‘for’ voters do not live in Crowborough. There is a loophole for developers that they regularly use so that the number of affordable houses is reduced. The so called open area will be minuscule and the fourth field will undoubtedly be developed very soon after. The so called benefits to the people of Crowborough and which have not been listed, will be cut to a minimum but there will be more traffic jams, overcrowded schools, Doctors surgeries and amenities. Well done on protecting one of the last of the green areas of Crowborough, councillors. Look out Crawley, Crowborough is catching you up with the urban sprawl. And, whatever happened to the ruling about no further building to be undertaken in order to protect damage to Ashdown Forest. People of Crowborough you really should get more proactive and fight these decisions every step of the way. It can be done if you care enough.

  2. So councillor Waller argued that this “AONB is far from beautiful” surely the disclosure of this opinion makes him biased towards agreeing to this development and his vote should be disallowed. Much of Crowborough is now “no longer beautiful” precisely because it has been over developed both in the past, present and into the future it seems! Why has it taken 2 weeks to report this planning result? I listened to the on line meeting and what a scrappy affair it was! Over something so contentious and important, why was it not deferred to a later date and rushed through in such a manner. What disgraceful leafletting of neighbours of the councillors! This alone should have negated the vote but was passed over by the chairman in a very casual manner. Lots of the usual points debated AONB, affordable housing, roads etc. but no mention whatsoever of burden on schools, surgeries, quality of life and consideration for the present residents. A case of put up and shut up. There are plenty of houses and flats available for purchase and rent in Crowborough already at all price ranges, and soon to be many more because of the quality of life being eroded by so much unnecessary building. I do not think these land developers car one jot about affordable housing. Shoe horn them in, turn them around. maximise their profit being their mantra.

  3. What a disaster for Crowborough which already has too much housing and population for our totally inadequate services to cope with, I.e. virtually no police presence and plans to “redefine” our fire service. Not to mention the overloaded and poorly maintained A26. Seems that there is always some sort of excuse to build on areas allegedly protected.
    Just lip service paid to Crowborough, used to be a nice place to live with people that cared about the town, now just becoming more of a dormitory town.

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