Waitrose has thrown its weight behind the campaign to stop 68 homes being built on a Crowborough town centre car park and adjacent land, by reminding Wealden District Council of its contractual obligations to the supermarket chain.
Wealden is hoping to sell Mead House car park and the boarded-up Beaconwood council offices site to Abbey Developments who have applied for planning permission for houses and flats at the expense of nearly 100 public car parking spaces. The Crowborough Community Association has been lobbying against the development of the site, as homes would be built just 5 metres from the Community Centre, as it would be left with just 16 dedicated car parking spaces adjacent to the building.
Crowborough Community Association (CCA) believes that the planning application is fundamentally flawed on legal and technical issues. Now Waitrose has written to Wealden District Council pointing-out an agreement about providing parking.
In a formal letter of objection to Wealden District Council, Mark Dawkins, Asset Manager, Waitrose/John Lewis Partnership, said:
The existing long term car park on the application site was developed at the time of the major extension of the Waitrose supermarket and remodelling of the Croft Road car park. The long term parking provision was required by both the Planning and Highway Authority in order to satisfy a requirement for long term parking in the centre of Crowborough. It was provided as a temporary car park until such time as Wealden District Council were able to provide an alternative solution for which a substantial sum was deposited with the Council to fund that provision.
Since that development, there is no evidence that the need for long term parking has reduced to warrant removal without replacement as agreed by the Council with the owners and developers of the Waitrose supermarket.
The Transport Statement with the application refers to the existing car park on the site as an overflow for the nearby Community Centre. This is factually wrong. It was provided as a long-term car park until such time as alternative provision was made. The existing car park and future replacement was entirely funded by the Waitrose development.
Mr Dawkins added that the development would remove parking from the commercial centre of Crowborough “essential for the vitality and viability of the businesses operating there.”
In response, Wealden District Council stated the planning application does not breach any obligation to the supermarket. Roy Galley, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, responsible for this public asset said:
Wealden District Council is satisfied that any sale and development of the Mead House site does not breach any obligations to Waitrose nor any other parties. Any agreement with Waitrose only related to the provision of temporary car parking whilst the existing store was built / expanded a considerable number of years ago.
Cllr Galley went on:
It continues to be a source of much disappointment that the CCA focus their attention on objecting to a scheme that will provide much needed housing for Crowborough in a sustainable location. The CCA have been aware of this proposed development for some considerable time, even prior to taking the Council’s offer of land for the development of the community centre. The town centre will continue to be served by 480 free car parking spaces.
The Waitrose objection comes on top of the discovery that Wealden District Council appears to have grossly exaggerated the number of staff who previously worked at the Beaconwood buildings. The figure of 190 has been used to claim the necessary Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) credits needed for planning permission to be granted under rules for protecting the Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area.
David Larkin, a Community Centre Trustee and Director said:
Wealden advised Abbey that AADT credits could be based on an assumption of 190 staff employed at Beaconwood pre-1989, which cannot be correct. Even using their own figures on Beaconwood’s floor space, the maximum employee figure could only be 67. In reality, during the last five years that the building was in use, the highest number of people employed there was only 27.
If this is not simply breathtaking incompetence, then I wouldn’t like to speculate on how or why the erroneous figure of 190 was given to Abbey who must now be wondering whether drawing up plans and submitting them to Wealden has been a waste of time and effort.
Cllr Galley responded:
Regarding the comments about vehicle movements and staff employed at our former office site, a suggestion that only 27 staff worked there is simply wrong. However this issue will be fully considered as part of the planning application and therefore does not merit any further comment at this time.
Wealden District Council pointed-out that Cllr Galley will be taking no part in the planning decision. This will be decided by the Council’s Planning Committee on the basis of national planning guidelines.