Update: After application was considered by the Planning Committee, a complaint was raised via the applicant’s lawyers about the decision-making process. Having sought legal advice, Wealden District Council has decided to take the application back to committee for re-determination.
It is now scheduled for consideration at the Planning Committee on 10th July.
At last week’s planning committee the application to build 119 homes in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) adjacent to Goldsmiths Rec was refused.
The motion was proposed by the Councillor for Jarvis Brook, Cllr Gareth Owen-Williams, on grounds of the development was in the AONB and the proximity to the adjacent Grade II listed building. Councillors on Planning Committee North voted by 6 to 5 to refuse the application.
The application submitted by Fairfax Acquisitions Limited was first considered at the Planning Committee North in February, but after a debate of about an hour and a quarter, councillors deferred the decision in order to get further information about extending the 30 mph speed limit on Eridge Road.
Since the last meeting, Crowborough Town Council also wrote to Wealden Distruct Council, as the planning authority, to highlight that a highly protected Great Crested Newt was found in the boating lake at Goldsmiths in 2016.
At the meeting last Thursday (6th), six people addressed the committee, three speaking on behalf of the developers: a transport consultant for the applicant, the ecologist who carried-out the survey and the planning agent.
The ecologist Paul Whitby argued the risk to protected species from the development was low. Two new breeding ponds would mitigate against the development, if newts were found on the site.
John Bailey felt the planning application should be considered in full again by the committee. He raised points relating to national planning policy and habitat regulations, arguing planning permission should be refused as this is a major development in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Jeannette Towey said this site was further away from Walshes Park than the Ashdown Forest. The recreational area is supposed to divert people away from visiting the Forest. A spokesperson for the Campaign to Protect Rural England argued no evidence has been presented showing SANGS (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces) work.
Deputy Chairman of the committee and Councillor for South West Crowborough, Cllr Neil Waller, said the discussion should only be about highways, as this was why the decision was deferred:
We asked our officers to go to Highways and seek their explanation as to why the 30 miles per hour speed limit could not be extended. They have done that – we have the answer.
I’m therefore slightly confused as to why the proposer and seconder, who were both here last time, wish to reopen debate.
However Cllr Peter Roundell for Maresfield, who seconded the proposal to reject the application, disagreed and said that he felt that the debate had been curtailed:
We are going to make a disastrous decision if we don’t refuse this.
As I said right at the beginning, we should allow this go to appeal and let them make that decision.
I just have a horror in twenty or thirty years time, we’ll have very little AONB left, because it will have all been concreted over.
When an application is refused, an applicant can appeal against the decision. Appeals are heard and decided by an Independent Planning Inspector.
In response the Head of Planning Stacey Robins said:
What worries me out all of this is Councillor Roundell’s suggestion that we ought to just kick it down the road and let an inspector take a decision – that the issues at stake are too controversial, and too high-profile and the word ‘precedent’ is used.
He said, if the committee were to do that, it would be a “dereliction of duty”, and secondly he argued this is what happened just around the corner at Steel Cross, another development site in the High Weald AONB. That application he pointed-out went all the way to the Court of Appeal and cost all the parties concerned a huge amount of money.
You can watch a video of the full debate here: