Controversial plans to build a concrete and aggregate plant in Newhaven have been narrowly approved by county councillors.
The application, put forward by developer Brett Aggregates Limited, was approved at a meeting of East Sussex County Council’s planning committee earlier today (Wednesday July 25).
Opponents of the proposals have already vented their anger at the decision to approve what they describe as a ‘devastating scheme’.
Before the final vote was held, committee chairman Claire Dowling (Con, Uckfield North) said: “This is a very, very difficult application. It is the most difficult one I think that any of us have actually sat through.
“I know councillors have looked at [the objections]. I have looked at them and taken them on board and yes, as many councillors have said, you can look at them one way then come at them from another view.
“There is a motion on the table that you do not like but we do have to weigh behind the decisions we make.”
Committee members took the decision after hearing representations from a number of speakers.
Six speakers spoke against the scheme, they included: Rachel Fryer of Newhaven Community Action; lead petitioner Geoff King; and Johnny Denis, Lewes district councillor for Ouse Valley and Ringmer.
The committee also heard arguments in favour of the application from Gregor Mutch, who spoke on behalf of the Brett Group.
During his representations Mr King described the plans as ‘totally inappropriate’ and argued they would impact on regeneration efforts in Newhaven.
He said: “The application would deter other companies and investments from job creation in Newhaven. This is the wrong industry in the wrong place and must be refused.”
Ms Fryer meanwhile criticised the quality of the officers’ report recommending approval, saying ‘insufficient weight’ had been given to the number of objections raised.
Ms Fryer also spoke about the plans for development in Newhaven to be ‘clean, green and marine’. The phrase, which was repeated by several others speaking against the plans, had formed part of Lewes District Council objection to the aggregate plant as they said the application would go against policy CP4 of the Lewes Core Strategy.
According to council documents, nearly 1,100 residents had written letters objecting to the scheme while only one letter was submitted in favour.
More than 3,200 people had also signed a petition opposing the development and a large group of objectors held a protest outside of the meeting held at County Hall in Lewes.
The protesters included Seaford town councillor Penny Lower. Speaking before the meeting, Cllr Lower said: “We hope [the committee] will listen to the fact that so many people have protested.
“All the local town councils have objected to it, Lewes District Council has objected to it, so we think it will be absolutely disgraceful if East Sussex County Council then overrules these local objections.”
However Mr Mutch, managing director of Brett Aggregates Limited, argued that many of the objections raised were ‘exaggerated or untrue’ and said the developer had held two public consultations prior to submission of the final plans.
He said: “We have listened and we have modified our proposals, part of that was to withdraw the block making facility to the south.”
Mr Mutch also said the company was in the process of moving its vehicle fleet over to lower emission engines, known as Euro six vehicles.
After hearing from the speakers councillors debated the proposals.
Kathryn Field, Liberal Democrat councillor for Battle and Crowhurst, said: “It is quite easy I believe to see both sides in this case. We need to remember this is a site that is already developed and has an industrial use.
“But we need to ask ourselves: ‘Is this particular use appropriate for this site?’
“I have various problems with this application, the first is the 31 jobs. It is not actually very many in a town the size of Newhaven. It also doesn’t say very much about the quality of the jobs.”
Cllr Field also spoke about the Lewes District Council’s ‘clean, green, marine’ objection, arguing that the aggregate plant would not meet the objectives laid out in the core strategy.
However Cllr Godfrey Daniel (Lab, Hastings – Braybrooke and Castle) criticised the use of the phrase, describing it as a ‘a con’.
He said: “I understand the strength of local feeling. It doesn’t surprise me terribly as we tend to get a lot of objections to industrial applications, they do tend to be unpopular wherever they may be.
“But it is not the number of objections but what is said in those in terms of planning issues which we can take into consideration.
“I think people in Newhaven and Seaford have been totally conned by this ‘clean, green, marine’. It is poetic, it is a nice three words together but in planning terms no one has really done anything about it.”
Following a debate the application was granted four votes to three.
In approving the application, the committee included a number of conditions governing the operation of the site.
The conditions included a requirement for the developer to provide £20,000 towards the Sussex Local Wildlife Sites Initiative and £15,000 to projects covered by the Newhaven Air Quality Action Plan.