Wealden policy set to ‘stifle’ local business

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A NEW COUNCIL proposal is ‘stifling’ local businesses and looks set to put people out of work, critics say.

The ‘Ashdown Forest Special Protection Area’ strategy – an environmental directive – blocks any development within seven kilometres of the Forest, a swathe of land which includes the thriving Bell Lane industrial estate plus single-office firms in small communities.

Although it appears to rule out major housing development, in fact the divisive and unpopular schemes like 1,000 new homes near Uckfield and Maresfield large-scale proposal will still go ahead.

Instead small schemes like four new family semis in Ridgewood, a vital change of use for a small firm in Nutley and a much-welcomed trade counter in Bell Lane are set for refusal.

The reason given is ‘the protection of the rural environment’ but commercial agent Chris Lawson counters: “How can driving a car along Bell Lane affect the Ashdown Forest?”

Chris Lawson bitterly criticises Wealden’s ‘lack of joined up thinking’ when the EU sponsored law was adopted, saying no other council bordering the Forest has rolled over so abjectly.

He said: “If its aim is to reduce nitrous oxide, have they considered people now have farther to travel to work?”

And he cites a Bell Lane firm which needs planning consent to add a trade counter and expand but will find plans fall foul of the new rule. “How is that helping business? If you have a small builder for example who employs carpenters or bricklayers, they will be going to the wall. Jobs are certain to be lost. This is stifling everything. Wealden is under pressure as 90% of firms employ 10 people or fewer and they will now never be able to expand. Councillors who accepted this rule should be ashamed of themselves.”

His views are shared by Stephen Neilly of Uckfield firm Clearwater. He described two sets of two semis in New Barn Lane, Ridgewood which would have automatically been accepted in the past and have now been refused under the new directive. “This will put more pressure on the countryside as windfall brownfield schemes like this one, which were generally popular with people, are being turned down. It would have seen £400,000 going into the community in wages for craftspeople, materials and agents’ income as well as four new families shopping locally.”

Cllr Ken Ogden from Maresfield vigorously opposes the scheme saying it will inflict hardship on an already suppressed industry and kill new jobs.

Wealden planning cabinet member Cllr Roy Galley defended the proposal by saying recent consultations indicated people wanted to preserve their local environment. He quoted a planning inspector’s decision to refuse homes in Fairwarp on the grounds of this newly-imposed law.

Chris Lawson fears businesses wanting to employ more staff or expand premises won’t come to Wealden. “They will look elsewhere; to Mid Sussex, Eastbourne or Gatwick. More people will have to go further to seek work. They must ‘taper’ this ruling or it will have a terrible impact on our already struggling rural economy.”