Councillors will help defend 200-home Hailsham planning appeal

A decision to refuse a large Hailsham development will be contested at appeal, Wealden district councillors have confirmed.

On Wednesday (May 11), the council’s Planning Committee South discussed how to proceed with an appeal over plans to build up to 200 homes on land west of Station Road.

The original application, which had sought outline planning permission, was refused by the committee in February. It had been turned down — against officer advice —  on highways grounds, with the committee citing concerns around the cumulative impact on Station Road of the scheme and other housing developments.

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An appeal has been lodged by developers, which is set to proceed as an informal hearing at an as-yet unknown date, sometime in the near future. 

Indicative layout of the proposed 200 Hailsham homes

In preparing for this hearing, however, the council has been unable to find a professional highways consultant willing to defend the committee’s argument. 

In light of this, officers sought further direction from the committee on how to proceed. They offered two options; either nominate an elected councillor to make its case in place of a professional highways consultant or withdraw its defence of the appeal.

These options came in for criticism from several committee members, who argued that withdrawing from the appeal would undermine councillors’ decision-making powers. 

There was also some criticism that the council’s planning officers, whose professional code of conduct precludes them from giving evidence in such circumstances, would not present the committee’s argument themselves. 

Other councillors focused on the case itself, however, arguing that they considered there was a good basis for refusal on highways grounds. 

In short, this argument went that the highways mitigations proposed by developers, while accepted by East Sussex County Council, could not realistically be achieved.

These mitigations, which the county council had concluded were necessary for the scheme to be acceptable, included, among other measures, parking enforcement on Station Road and the creation of car clubs for residents of the new development.

This argument was supported by the committee as whole, which went on to name six councillors who could act as the council’s representatives at the appeal proceedings.

They were: Cllr Bob Bowdler (Con), Cllr Neil Cleaver (Lib Dem), Cllr Gary Johnson (Con), Cllr David Watts (Con), Cllr David White (Ind) and committee chairman Susan Steadman (Con).

The committee also resolved that the council should look into hiring legal representation to assist these councillors during the hearing.