Save “Our Green and Pleasant Land” from Over-Development


…and my nightmare that London is going to extend to Eastbourne and Brighton by 2050 is going to come to fruition…

Councillor Roy Galley speaking at the Cabinet Local Development Framework (LDF) Sub-Committee on 20th April

Lime Kiln Woods (Photo Warren Saville)
Lime Kiln Woods (Photo Warren Saville)

Wealden District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development has been given a mandate to “robustly raise” a number of concerns about the Local Plan process with the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.

At the LDF Sub-Committee, Counsellor Ann Newton said the Steel Cross Development in Crowborough will be at the top of her list, but she also intends to raise other matters with Greg Clark MP, including:

  • the significant amount of additional houses Wealden is expected to deliver,
  • how the required infrastructure will be funded, and
  • the way the current rules leave the Council vulnerable to speculative planning applications from developers whilst the Local Plan is reviewed.

 After the meeting, Councillor Ann Newton, who chairs the Sub-Committee, said:

Given the significant number of houses we are being required to deliver, it is important the infrastructure is delivered with the housing and we are working with the County Council and other providers to achieve this aim.

Committee Vice-Chairman, Council Leader Bob Standley, shared Cllr Newton’s concerns:

We need to ensure the process is plan-led and not developer led and to do this we need to achieve the five year land supply required.  Transitional arrangements on housing numbers would assist this part of the plan.

Consultation on Planning Blueprint

Last autumn, the District Council held a major consultation as part of the first stage in preparing a new Wealden Local Plan.  Seven exhibitions were held around the District, including one at Crowborough Community Centre on 22nd October, and members of the public and organisations were asked to complete a questionnaire.  As a result responses from over 400 groups and individuals were received.

The proposed Local Plan allows for 19,950 homes to be built in the District between 2013 and 2037.  Under proposals Hailsham could double in size.

Should all the new homes be concentrated in the south of the district?

The largest amount of responses related to the number of houses to be built in the south of the District rather than spread equally across the District and infrastructure provision.

A number of respondents made the point towns with exisiting rail connections to London should grow, for example the following response was received:

Distribute at least 5,000 of the 9,380 dwellings proposed for Hailsham between Uckfield, Polegate, Buxted and Crowborough since they all have railway stations.

The Sub-Committee stressed that the necessary infrastructure must be in place to support new development, and Cllr Newton said failure to improve the A27 could be a “deal breaker” for what is being proposed in the Local Plan.  Much better links between Hailsham and Polegate station would also be necessary to support the outlined growth.

In their reply to the consultation, Crowborough Chamber of Commerce argued that there needed to be a significant re-think of the strategic economic strategy:

The plan identifies potential economic growth sectors but it fails to address the scale, type and location of sites that will be required to accommodate these sectors.  Concerned that the preferred economic strategy simply looks to focus new employment in the south of the District along the A22 corridor because the bulk of the new housing is proposed there.  This ignores the relative strength of the economy in the north and will do nothing to foster economic development in Crowborough.  The absence of any significant attention to the economic needs of Crowborough through the provision of new development opportunities will not only harm the prospects for business growth in the town but will inevitably lead to longer journeys to work for residents who would be forced to travel to employment in the south of the District.

Crowborough Town Centre

The report summarising the responses (Appendix B) states that there were a low number of responses to Question 14 about the size of the main shopping area in Crowborough.  The Issues, Options and Recommendations document said The Cross acts as a barrier to shoppers and defines the High Street and part of Croft Road as the primary shopping area.  Wealden DC intend to have further discussion with interested parties, including Crowborough Town Council, on this issue.

Conservation Areas – Crowborough Town Centre and Chapel Green

It is proposed that the size of the current Conservation Area in Crowborough Town Centre should shrink dramatically by removing three areas (see map below).  A request for a new Conservation Area in Chapel Green is not being recommended by Wealden District Council.   Only two people responded to the question in the consultation at the end of last year about the size of the Conservation Area in Crowborough.

Size of Conservation Area Crowborough Town Centre
Size of Conservation Area Crowborough Town Centre

Protection of Ashdown Forest

A major study of the effects of air polution on the Ashdown Forest is underway.  Initial findings suggest that damage to the Forest habitat from vehicle exhaust fumes is worse than anticipated.

Some respondents wanted to see more homes built.  Wealden District Council have said these comments were chiefly made by land owners, developers and agents, and our two neighbouring councils.  They have said those who were opposed to the higher housing numbers argued the numbers proposed were unfair and unreasonable and that there was insufficient infrastructure to cope with the growth.

Wealden District Council have said respondents called for a more even distribution of growth across the District had failed to take account of the need to protect Ashdown Forest.

Field at Steel Cross (Photo Warren Saville)
Field at Steel Cross (Photo Warren Saville)

Further Studies

The sub-committee agreed that a review should take place of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment to take account of any new demographic projections before the proposed Local Plan is put to the Planning Inspector next year.

A number of other studies are also to take place following responses to the consultation.  These include:

  • A Transport Study concerning Ashdown Forest and a further study considering the impact of development on current road infrastructure and the need for improvements in transport infrastructure.

  • Economic Needs Study looking at rural and urban areas and including town centres.

  • Open Space and Leisure Study.

  • Green Infrastructure Study.

  • Discussions with bus and rail providers.

  • School Places Assessment.

  • Health facilities Assessment.

Read the Reports and Watch the Meeting

The responses to the consultation and the LDF Sub-committee recommendations of 20th April in full can be seen on the Agenda and Minutes section of the Wealden District Council website.  Appendix B is a summary of the responses to the Local Plan consultation and Appendix C deals with Conservation Areas.  As Appendix B is a long document – it is suggested once opened you press the Ctrl and F keys simultaneously on your keyboard, to search the report for keywords (such as Crowborough or Ashdown Forest).

Click to watch a recording of the Cabinet LDF Sub-committee.  (Cllr Roy Galley’s quote at the beginning of this article is taken from his comments at 00:14:22)

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