Will a new housing scheme safeguard a town’s business or splinter its infrastructure?
Developers have re-submitted an application to build 115 new homes on land at the back of Heathfield police station.
The scheme has been amended to include 40 per cent ‘affordable’ homes compared with 35 per cent in a previous application.
But residents are divided as to the benefits or disadvantages of the plan.
Some people feel new homes are essential to safeguard the viability of town businesses. But others say the influx of families - in the region of 400-plus people - will place intolerable pressure on schools, doctors’ surgeries, drainage capacity and road safety.
When the application was initially lodged, it fell foul of Wealden District Council’s stringent policies safeguarding open countryside. The site - occupying falling land from the police station down towards the Millennium Green - is partially within the AONB and objectors fear if this ruling is breached, the gates will open to opportunistic developers who will cite it as a precedent.
Objecting to the original scheme, David Jackman, who lives close to the High Street site, said: “We question how much weight should be attached to the proposed provision of ‘40 percent of so called affordable housing’ as there appears no mechanism proposed for its delivery. It is known this may be a vague and easy offer by applications at outline planning stage who could sell on without necessarily a legal agreement binding a future purchaser.”
Fellow objector Guy Farmiloe, from Sheepsetting Lane, who represents a group of concerned residents, is worried about heavy impact on Cross in Hand Primary school, the community college and other overstretched facilities.
He said: “We are looking at a minimum of 50-60 children being brought by car to the school placing even more pressure on an overburdened community. We are lucky in our town’s AONB status and once it has gone, it would be very difficult to replace it. Building here would also create a precedent for other developers who would exploit every loophole in planning policy.”
Cllr Rupert Simmons, chairman of the Heathfield Partnership, said: “We have been seeking to inject some new oxygen into the vibrancy of the town both for commercial and housing development.”
He feels the location is ideal, being close to the Youth Centre, bus services and the town, where there are eight vacant shops already. He also points out employees have to commute distances by car with the Chamber of Trade calculating at least a 50 per cent inward commute daily.
When it was first proposed the Parish Council signalled approval of the scheme saying the town urgently needs affordable homes and a customer base for business. Wealden member Cllr Jonica Fox is collating conflicting views and the application will go before a planning committee on September 26 for determination.