A controversial housing scheme has been approved in a narrow vote among Lewes planners, in circumstances one councillor compared to ‘having a shotgun put to the head.’
On Wednesday (November 21), Lewes District Council’s planning committee granted outline approval to build a six homes on a greenfield site in Barcombe Cross, which is accessed via a private road known as Bridgelands.
Despite a recommendation for approval, the scheme was only granted planning permission after two alternative motions, to either refuse or defer the application, were defeated.
Both motions were defeated after a lengthy debate, in which committee members were warned that a decision to refuse or defer could result in the developer taking the application to appeal.
However the advice drew criticism from Kingston councillor Vic Ient (Lib Dem), who, in arguing for a deferral, said: “I not very happy with having a shotgun put to my head on this matter. We are supposed to be here as part of local democracy.
“We are supposed to be here to judge things on behalf of our residents and electors.
“The fact that we are been given ultimatums that this will go to appeal and there will be costs, I think is putting shotguns to our head.
“I think under cool heads in the light of day tomorrow morning, people will be thinking how can we make this happen without confrontation.”
Cllr Ient’s comments, however, were criticised by the committee’s chairman Sharon Davy (Con. – Chailey and Wivelsfield).
Cllr Davy said: “Cllr Ient, I do feel you should take some caution. We are speaking with our officers here and they are offering a professional judgement.”
The calls for deferral – put forward by Cllr Jim Sheppard (Con. – Newick) and seconded by Cllr Ient – came after proposals to both to approve and to refuse the scheme each failed to secure the support of a second councillor.
Arguing in favour of approving the scheme, Cllr Tom Jones (Con. – Ditchling and Westmeston) said: “I will start by reminding everybody that this is an outline planning application so obviously there are no details in terms of the design and shape of housing at the moment.
“I find very little at this point to say, ‘no I’m against it’. I am interested to listen to what other members might have to say, but as it stands at the moment I would be in favour of voting in favour of the officers’ recommendation for approval.”
Cllr Jones then put forward a motion to grant outline planning permission, but no other councillor would second it.
Following this, Cllr Peter Gardiner (Lib Dem. – Ouse Valley and Ringmer) instead put forward a motion to refuse planning permission, on the grounds that the site would be liable to flooding and would be an overdevelopment of the site.
Cllr Gardiner also argued that the application was ‘premature’ as neither the Lewes Local Plan or the Barcombe Neighbourhood Plan processes had concluded.
However, following advice that these arguments would be unlikely to succeed should the developer take the matter to appeal, Cllr Gardiner’s motion also failed to secure support.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Cllr Sheppard put forward a motion for deferral ‘in order to request the developer rethinks the proposals’.
Following this motion, the council’s head of planning Andrew Hill left the room to consult with the developer’s planning agent Louise Caney on whether her client would consider putting in an amended scheme if the committee opted to defer.
According to Mr Hill, Ms Caney confirmed the developer would not consider this.
In light of this committee members were advised that a deferral would simply see the same application return unchanged and leave the council open to an appeal on the grounds of non-determination.
Following this advice, Cllr Gardiner said he would not support a deferral and felt it unlikely a refusal could be successfully defended at appeal.
Shortly afterwards the application was granted outline planning permission, with four councillors voting in favour and four abstaining from a vote.