Vital village schemes are scuppered by new law

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WHAT CRITICS have described as an ill-thought-out countryside protection law conflicts with the needs of villages and towns to keep their heads above water in turbulent economic times, it is feared.

On the one hand planners and councillors say they are simply implementing the law. On the other small builders, developers and even churchmen are pleading for flexibility about where homes and firms should go.

The row erupted after the Express was contacted by builders and architects who said small-scale schemes set to rejuvenate communities are rejected out of hand because of Wealden’s seven kilometre rule.

This restricts development within seven kilometres of the Ashdown Forest borders – which includes the Bell Lane business park in Uckfield. Schemes rejected under the policy include Ridgewood semis, an Uckfield trade counter, a Nutley home, work on a vicarage and a village hall.

Applicants say all would have been approved until the new law was brought into force.

Following the Express front page story (June 22) Revd David Tidswell supported views held by agent Chris Lawson.

He said: “I know from a number of councillors that they are extremely upset with the way this policy has been introduced, and its implications. The Church of England Diocese of Chichester has submitted a response against policy WCS 12 in strong terms.

“It is an unsound strategy which will have an adverse effect on the local economy and its effects will be far reaching. It is a moratorium on development with no transition arrangements.”

Another objector dismissed fears that traffic severely exacerbates nitrogen pollution saying only 10 per cent comes from motor vehicles, a claim refuted by planners.

Planning portfolio holder Cllr Roy Galley (who is a Forest Commoner and vice chairman of the Board of Conservators) held out an olive branch saying anyone with a scheme in mind should discuss it fully with Wealden’s planning office so all avenues could be explored.

He said: “I regard it as an important duty to ensure the Forest is in safe hands for future generations. That does not preclude sensible business development such as limited affordable housing in villages and we will work to achieve that. This habitat directive is not a Wealden policy – it is the law of the land.

“For every loud voice shouting at me I have at least two quiet voices who agree we are doing the right thing. We must find ways in which we can accommodate business needs within greener policies, for example green travel plans”

He pointed out the Forest is not the only restricted area – limitations on development also apply to the Thames Basin Heathland and the Pevensey Levels although boundaries are smaller.

Wealden’s head of planning, David Phillips pointed out that European directives enshrine habitat regulations in UK planning law. Critics say other councils bordering the Forest do not enforce this law but David Phillips said that is because they are not so far advanced with their core strategies which must ultimately be approved by a Government inspector. He said new developments must be mitigated by providing or improving green spaces elsewhere, citing ‘interpretation boards’ at beauty spots or footpath improvements.

Objectors say these would increase footfall and fly in the face of the law’s aim. They add this hastily-implemented law scuppers what people need in communities while allowing massive developments already approved. They also query precisely when and where the policy was passed into law.