A scheme to build 115 new homes on 4.94 hectares of land at the back of Heathfield Police Station next to the Millennium Green was approved unanimously by Wealden councillors at last Thursday’s planning meeting. Forty per cent of the new homes will be ‘affordable.’
The outline plan - earmarked for approval by planning officers - will also see three houses in front of the site demolished. A new access road, children’s, youth and adult playing space, bus improvements including a new shelter and information signs, Cuckoo Trail bike and walking links will be created, plus a maintenance provision for the Millennium Green.
This is the latest stage in a scheme which saw a series of setbacks since it was first proposed two years ago. First put forward as a 160 home development, density is now down to 115. And the biggest hurdle appears to have been overcome; most of the land lies within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and building breached both local authority and Government planning law.
However the town’s urgent need for affordable homes weighed favourably against landscape constraints with seven per cent of applicants on the council’s housing register waiting for homes in Heathfield. To keep faith with restrictions, developers conducted their own searches for alternative sites where affordable homes could be built, but none provided enough space and many also breached landscape protection policies
Heathfield Parish Council planning committee chairman Patrick Coffey said: “My council is pleased with the report to recommend approval - it is well written and balanced. Over the years Heathfield has been underprovided with affordable homes. This scheme would go some way towards redressing the balance. It will also revitalise the local economy and we welcome its sustainability and public transport improvements. The topography of the site ensures building is set down and the site is well screened with a buffer zone ensuring the AONB is not adversely affected.”
His views were supported by County Councillor Rupert Simmons who added: “We estimate the new population would provide 252 local construction jobs, £2.45 million to town businesses and £165,000 per annum council tax income. At present we have 115 families on the housing waiting list and no affordable homes have been built in Heathfield for 12 years.”
But a note of caution was sounded by ward councillor Jonica Fox who wants conditions applied so development does not cause ‘irreparable damage.’
She asks for a 10 metre buffer zone to the western site boundary to protect wildlife and neighbours’ amenities, protection for trees and hedgerows, and building at the lower end of the site.
She also wants to ensure the 40 per cent affordable homes allocation will not be watered down, particularly if the site was sold on.
The next stage is for detailed plans of road layout and housing design to be submitted and approved. Work should begin on site in about 18 months.