Call for ‘full picture’ on why Crowborough development was not refused

A group of Wealden councillors has called on the authority to provide “the full picture” of the circumstances surrounding a controversial planning decision.

The application site in red
The application site in red

In an open letter to the leader and chief executive of Wealden District Council, a cross-party group of seven councillors is calling for the publication of information surrounding the Eridge Road housing development in Crowborough. 

The 119-home scheme had initially been refused planning permission at a committee hearing in March, but was later approved after being brought back for a second hearing in July. 

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At the time the council said it took the decision to hold a second hearing after receiving legal advice, which followed concerns being raised about the decision-making process. The details of what these concerns were have never been made public.

The seven councillors argue this lack of disclosure “undermines public respect” for the authority.

In their letter, the councillors said: “Despite a number of formal Freedom of Information requests from members of the public and emails from councillors, the requested information and full picture of what justified the setting aside of a democratic decision has not been released. 

“As you know, the public elects us to, amongst other things, hold the council to account, but without access to relevant facts we are unable to do that. 

“Even after the July meeting, at which those on the Planning Committee North were subjected to intense guidance concerning predetermination, there was no confirmation as to the full reasons for the re-hearing, until a completely different reason was given in confidence to members. 

“As you’ll know, there is a limited time to challenge decisions and any appearance of prevarication in such a serious matter undermines public respect for our local council.”

The letter goes on to request all correspondence, minutes, notes of meetings, discussions and telephone calls related to the application.

The councillors argue they are entitled to the information as elected representatives, but ask for the council to treat the letter as a formal Freedom of Information Act request if the information is not released. 

The seven councillors come from several political groups, including the Green Party, an independent, the Liberal Democrats and the Wealden Democrats. 

They are: Cllr Gavin Blake-Coggins, Cllr Neil Cleaver, Cllr Keith Obbard, Cllr Gareth Owen-Williams, Cllr Dr Patricia Patterson-Vanegas, Cllr Stephen Shing and Cllr David White. 

A Wealden District Council spokesman said: “The council always seeks to be open and transparent regarding the planning process and indeed all council proceedings, and to provide information to councillors and the public as appropriate.

“As the councillors have acknowledged, we have already shared detailed information with them about why this application was referred back to committee.

“We have also answered Freedom Information Requests from members of the public. The council is satisfied that it acted properly in referring the application back to committee and has always sought to act in the public interest in the determination of this application.

“With respect to this new request for correspondence, we will review the situation and process this in the usual way, and a response will be sent to the signatories of this letter in due course.”