Wealden councillors have given the go-ahead for 160 new homes to be built at Walsh Manor Farm, Crowborough.
The decision was made possible by the opening up of 28 hectares of Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) to the public, essential under the council’s ruling that building can only take place within seven kilometres of the Ashdown Forest if suitable open space is provided.
The proposal has angered the community and sparked accusations by Uckfield commercial agent Chris Lawson that ‘local government can be run as an effective dictatorship by a clique with no proper discussion or debate’.
Mr Lawson said there was a Walshes Road pre-meeting last week attended by councillors and officers but it was not open to the public. After the meeting he said: “I am sorry to say I think it appears that the committee debate could be a charade and the meeting was a rubber-stamping exercise.
“There were originally objections from several quarters including East Sussex County Council and local residents. I would have been much happier if these sorts of issues could have been brought out into the open by some form of public debate. I pity the poor residents of Western Road and Walshes Road and I fear traffic problems will become very much worse. I wonder what other potential schemes will come under this SANGS umbrella?”
But a Wealden spokesman said: “Pre-meeting briefings for members are often held in the case of large applications to allow members to ask questions about the technical details of complex issues. On the same day of the Walshes Road application there was an all committee briefing for the Ashdown Business Park in Maresfield.
“Local members who are not on the committee, and Parish and Town Council representatives are also invited. The meetings are chaired by the committee chairman who will ensure the discussion does not stray towards decision making or pre-determination.”
The housing development, which the council says will help boost the Crowborough economy, is 2.5km away from Ashdown Forest, an internationally-recognised Special Protected Area. Planning measures to protect it mean developers must provide a SANGS nearby to mitigate the impact. This space for walkers and dog owners is intended to take recreational pressure off the forest for the next century.
Wealden planning cabinet member Ann Newton said: “Our first SANGS will provide a safe habitat for local wildlife and greatly add to enjoyment of the countryside for local people.”