Buxted GP complains of ‘rigid policy’

April Cottage
April Cottage

Wealden District Council is ‘excessively rigid’ in the way it interprets a key planning policy.

That’s the charge laid by a Buxted GP who is frustrated the council refuses to allow an old cottage to return to its former residential use.

April Cottage in Buxted is 150 years old and would have been occupied by families for nearly all of that time. The only exception was its 20 year use as the village doctors’ surgery.

When the new medical centre was built, Dr Clarissa Fabre opened an alternative health centre and would now like the building to revert to its original use.

But it has fallen foul of Ashdown Forest seven kilometre ruling. Dr Fabre says WDC is excessively rigid in the way the EU Habitats Regulations guidance is interpreted, saying other local councils like Mid Sussex have allowed suitable planning applications to go ahead. And she points out the proposal is supported by Natural England and the council’s own Local Plan states matters like this should not be unnecessarily delayed.

The proposal is blocked, a WDC spokesman says: “Due to the increased recreational pressure a new residential occupation would place on the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area, in combination with other development. Progress is ongoing to implement SANGS (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces) with an access management and monitoring strategy that will enable development that is otherwise acceptable to proceed in due course.”

But Dr Fabre says for the past three years WDC has not produced a suitable SANGS. “There are two in sight, one in Crowborough and one in Uckfield but April Cottage cannot be covered by the Crowborough one because it is not within the ‘correct’ geographical limits of Crowborough.”

She explains Natural England says geographical limits cannot be imposed on developments of less than ten dwellings. “The Uckfield SANGS is nowhere near completion and there is no time frame. We are reassured it ‘could be a matter of months’ but that has been the cry from Wealden councillors for the last two and a half years. We anticipate it will be years into the future. We are incredibly frustrated by the lack of progress and there is nothing we can do. The Government’s keen to build new houses yet reasonable applications like ours are blocked. The council says ‘come and talk to us’ but they are being completely unrealistic. More traffic movements are generated by a surgery than a small private dwelling.”