Buxted could lose much-needed new hall

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BUXTED’S new village hall is the latest scheme to fall foul of a new planning law.

The Wealden rule prevents enterprise, new homes or community projects within seven kilometres of the Ashdown Forest.

Buxted parish clerk Malcolm Wilson told the Express: “People are totally bemused by this and we expect it is unsustainable. We do not know when it was fully discussed. Our new hall can probably not now go ahead after years of planning. It was included in Wealden’s non-statutory local plan and an application lodged last Autumn but not determined. This is a disaster for the village with 67 new homes being built plus 20 more to come. The hall was meant to be the heart of Buxted serving families using the playground and new health centre.”

The parish has been told if they build a new hall it must be on a like-for-like size basis to the old one but with no new parking so a redesign is necessary and parking must be elsewhere. If the hall goes ahead the old site must not be developed to keep it ‘sterile’ of anything that could increase traffic.

Buxted Village Hall Community Trust is unhappy with the outcome and does not know whether it can support a new design. Councillors are taking advice from an independent planning consultant and Charles Hendry MP.

Meanwhile Uckfield businesses challenge the council for ‘stifling economic growth in the town.’ They are angry about instant implementation of the rule when it could have been phased in.

Wealden cabinet member Cllr Roy Galley defended the council’s stance at Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce meeting. He admitted the council’s own arguments, against a higher number of new homes being built in the District, were used by a planning inspector to restrict business development as well.

Cllr Galley said the council had successfully argued - using evidence about nitrogen from cars damaging the Forest - for 9,500 new homes to be built up to 2026/7 rather than 11,000 demanded in the South East Plan. But he was ‘surprised’ when the inspector applied those arguments to restrict business development. He said Wealden is working on mitigation measures that could enable development and hopes the problem is temporary. The planning inspector will hold another hearing on September 6 where this issue will be covered.

He went on to say it is vital the inspector approves the strategy otherwise there would be ‘total chaos’ in the planning system with every decision susceptible to challenge at judicial review.

Clearwater’s Steven Neilly whose scheme for four new homes was turned down said now half a million will not be spent locally on materials and labour over the next 12 months during a time of recession and at a time of hardship. Chris Lawson of Lawson Commercial said “You are supposed to represent the best interests of people in the area and you are just not doing it. You are hiding behind the inspector and should be trying to find a way to solve this problem.” Cllr Galley assured him: “We are trying to find a way to solve it.”