Extension of Uckfield retail space approved despite parking concerns

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Plans to extend and redevelop an Uckfield retail space have been approved by planners.

At a meeting on Thursday (August 23), Wealden District Council planners approved plans for a series of changes to The Seed House in Bell Lane, Uckfield.

The changes include plans for ground and first floor extensions to the building, dividing its current retail space into two new shops and a veterinary surgery. Three first-floor flats would also be provided as part of the scheme.

Before making a decision, the committee heard arguments in support of the application from planning agent Oliver Neagle as well as arguments against from local councillor Claire Dowling, who raised concerns about the loss of parking spaces.

During his representations Mr Neagle highlighted how the loss of parking spaces had been addressed by the developer and that the site is considered to be a ‘highly sustainable location’, within walking distance of both the railway and bus stations.

Mr Neagle said: “The mix of uses will significantly contribute to the vitality and viability of Uckfield town centre and provide much-needed housing given the significant housing land supply shortfall within the borough.

“Following an initial objection from East Sussex Highways based on the loss of eight car parking spaces, the applicant has amended the scheme to provide three [new] parking spaces – resulting in the net loss of just five parking spaces.”

While Cllr Dowling (Con – Uckfield Central) acknowledged the overall loss of parking spaces had been reduced to five, she said this would still have an unacceptable impact on traffic in Uckfield town centre.

Cllr Dowling said: “The reason I am here still stands, there are not adequate car parking spaces for what is being proposed. Yes, there are spaces for people coming shopping or maybe attending the veterinary practice, but there will not be adequate spaces for the employees that will be sited on that location.

“If this application is approved as it stands, without the necessary number of parking spaces it will undoubtedly cause additional congestion in the area.”

Cllr Dowling also raised concerns about the parking studies, which she considered to be ‘flawed’ and asked the committee to look at imposing conditions requiring additional car parking spaces.

These concerns were echoed by Michael Lunn (Con – Buxted and Maresfield) and Carol Reynolds (Con – Uckfield North), who put forward a motion to refuse planning permission.

Cllr Reynolds said: “We just can’t keep parking on the streets. Being an Uckfield councillor I have had more than enough complaints.”

However the committee also heard from officers who cautioned that the loss of parking was considered acceptable by East Sussex Highways and would not be a strong cause for refusal.

Discussing this point, senior planning officer Chris Bending said: “I think we need to be careful here because we are in danger of getting far too specific about a relatively small number of parking spaces.

“I appreciate this is an important point and that parking is an emotive issue, particularly in an area like Uckfield where traffic is an emotive issue.

“However there are a large number of retail units up and down Uckfield High Street – and other employment uses in close proximity – which don’t have any parking for employees

“That’s the case for almost every town centre and village centre you could go to around the country. This is not an unusual situation.”

Councillors also discussed flooding in the area, but were assured that the first floor flats would likely be protected while the wider site was covered by a flood alert scheme.

Following a lengthy discussion of the issues, the committee granted planning permission as recommended by officers by six votes to three.