Focus on new Wealden homes at critical meeting

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TWO CONTROVERSIAL decisions which could affect the economic health of local towns and villages come under the spotlight at a critical meeting next week.

After serious concerns were voiced about where new homes will and won’t go – according to Wealden District Council’s Core Strategy – a date has now been set for a thorough inspection of the issues involved.

These include plans for 160 new homes behind Heathfield Police Station on the north side of the town which were ruled out by planning inspector Michael Moore in an interim report on the scheme.

The reason given was that the land is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Another worry – voiced by parishes, builders and small businesses – is an EU ruling which bans any development within seven kilometres of the Ashdown Forest.

Both these matters - plus other concerns raised - will be considered by a Government planning inspector at a public hearing on Thursday, September 6 at the East Sussex National Golf Club.

Chairman of Heathfield Parish Council’s planning committee, Cllr Patrick Coffey said: “This is an unexpected move. Only one day has been granted and within that time all the issues must be considered. This really is the last shot and the final opportunity for concerns about the subjects to be raised. It matters very much that the points are expressed effectively and succinctly.”

He said the 160 home plan is the only ‘site specific’ scheme on the day’s agenda. The rest are to do with points of policy and principle. He went on: “It appears that some of the issues raised by individuals and groups were significant enough to warrant an extra day’s examination. It will be a full schedule but the inspector concerned is very thorough and keen that everything is kept to a strict timetable.”

When the subject was discussed by the Parish Council, district councillor Dick Angel explained there are between 130-140 families in need in Heathfield.

The seven kilometre rule has aroused concerns at every level as it extends to areas already designated for business, such as Uckfield’s Bell Lane industrial estate where permission has been refused for one firm to set up a trade counter. Another scheme put on hold by its implementation is the construction of a new parish hall for Buxted. A detailed application for this was submitted last Autumn.

Neighbouring Mid Sussex District Council has also implemented similar restrictions. And now green spaces in and around Uckfield are being identified by Wealden to act as ‘mitigation’ - in other words, alternative open spaces - so that housing and business schemes can go ahead unimpeded.

Wealden officers told Uckfield town councillors more about the rule. They said permissions could be granted if it can be shown that SANGS – Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces – could be found. Planners are trying to find them, searching first for existing open spaces. These must be of a minimum of 10 hectares although they could be linked by footpaths.

At present Natural England reckons eight hectares of SANGS are needed per 1,000 population increase.