Application for Bexhill travellers’ site submitted by residents’ group approved

Proposals for a permanent travellers’ site in Bexhill have been unanimously approved by Rother planners.

On Thursday (December 17), Rother District Council’s planning committee approved an outline application for land on the east side of Watermill Lane, an area which had been allocated for such a use within the council’s Development and Site Allocations (DaSA) Local Plan.

While not owners of the site, the application had been brought by RAUDIN, a residents’ group from Netherfield and Battle, which argued the granting of planning permission would prevent unauthorised development elsewhere in the district. 

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Speaking at the meeting, RAUDIN spokesman Bernard Brown said: “An approval today establishes the clear validity and deliverability of this site. This empowers the council to resist intentional unauthorised development across the district, including Bexhill.

“The case officer has said there are no planning reasons to refuse this outline planning application but there are many excellent policy reasons to grant it.” 

RAUDIN’s proposals had been wrapped up in an application which had been refused by planners earlier this year.   

In that case, the applicant had been seeking retrospective planning permission for the stationing of two mobile homes on land off of Netherfield Hill. Part of the applicant’s argument in that case had been that there were no alternative pitches available for travellers in the district.

The committee eventually refused the scheme largely on the grounds that the Bexhill site was both allocated for gyspy and traveller use within the DaSA and was unoccupied.

However, Mr Brown said he feared this justification could fall away at appeal as he was aware that the site’s landowner – the local authority-owned SeaChange Sussex – had indicated that it would be unwilling to release the land. 

He said this unwillingness to release the land had been drawn to the council’s attention prior to the August meeting but had been withheld from the committee at that time.

Mr Brown said: “Without this site being readily available a successful appeal against this committee’s decision is almost inevitable. This application is the consequence.”

While the site had been allocated with the DaSA since last year, the application had seen significant opposition from many Bexhill residents.

The council received 103 objections raising concerns around the impact of the development on the local area, particularly the impact on Watermill Lane in combination with a recently approved housing development nearby.

There were also 51 letters of support, with all but three submitted by Netherfield residents.

More than 166 further objections were received, but were not published as they were considered to contain “comments that are deemed to be potentially libellous, defamatory, threatening, abusive or likely to incite racial hatred”.

Ward councillor Sam Coleman (Lab) condemned these comments and said they were “rightfully discounted” from the consideration. 

However, he urged the committee not to discount the other representations and to give lesser weight to those writing in support from outside Bexhill.

He said: “It is clear from this report that the majority of local respondents are against this application and I think it is no surprise when you look at this from a local perspective. 

“Here we see a site that has been earmarked as a travellers’ site starting I think back in 2016 through various additions of the DaSA, which from conversation many residents had no idea about. 

“For those who were aware in 2016, many didn’t feel supported enough to object effectively and I think unfortunately recent improvements to our consultation are no remedy for this lack of transparency in the past. 

“So when a group of residents opposing travellers’ sites in Netherfield put in a planning application for this site, miles from where they live, you can understand how some Sidley residents might feel powerless because of a site allocation from nearly half a decade ago.”

Despite this Cllr Coleman accepted that the planning policy appeared to be behind the application and asked the committee (of which he is member) to consider whether it would be appropriate to add any conditions to address local concerns.

The committee as a whole appeared to share this view and voted unanimously in favour of the application following.

Proposing the motion, Cllr Mary Barnes (Con) said: “It is probably time, since no one is saying anything, to propose that we give this planning permission. 

“I can’t see any other way round it. It is in the DaSA, we’ve heard a really good explanation from both officers and from the speaker.

“It just seems to me that this is completely and utterly watertight. It is quite obvious why there were so many Netherfield people writing in, Cllr Coleman.”

For further details see application reference RR/2020/1672/P on the Rother District Council planning website.