More than 40 business leaders from Uckfield and Crowborough have expressed their fury at what they see as zero economic growth in North Wealden since the seven kilometre rule was imposed.
At last week’s packed meeting of the Crowborough and District Chamber of Commerce they told Wealden Council officers the Ashdown Forest Habitats Directive is having a negative impact on the local economy.
Chamber president Jeremy Woolger explained: “At previous meetings Wealden’s representatives insisted that economic impact was non-existent or negligible. This is not what we hear from businesses in the seven kilometre zone and we wanted to present evidence to support the problems they are facing. From the mood in the room it was quite clear that many are struggling to trade under the regulations. The policy restricts business development and expansion which in turn prevents job creation. Three vacant sites in designated industrial areas in Crowborough have the potential to create 16 - 20 extra light industrial units, and possibly 100 new jobs but owners have been told not to bother applying for permission as it would be refused.”
Tuesday’s meeting was attended by Wealden’s head of planning, Kelvin Williams and planning officer Douglas Moss who summarised where things stand with the policy before the floor was opened to comments and questions.
Many painted a depressing picture of how businesses were being damaged by the directive and how they must travel further to be able to operate, often across the Forest, because opportunities no longer exist locally. One detailed account came from an established Crowborough firm with a £10m turnover and 90 per cent of business coming from the local area. Now less than 10 per cent is attributed locally and the firm might have to relocate with possible loss of 79 jobs. Other frustrations they descibed centred on Wealden’s lack of urgency in finding ways to improve the situation. Mr Woolgar said the council had not started to monitor nitrogen levels. Wealden said it could be a another two to three years before results are known.
A Wealden spokesman said: “Planning officers take every opportunity to work with the local business, developers and agents to try to mitigate the effects of the policy to protect the Ashdown Forest. Last week’s meeting was another example of this. As shown by a High Court ruling we are interpreting planning legislation correctly and balance environmental protection with community development needs.”