Proposals intended to transform a former nail salon in Hailsham have been deferred by planners in light of support from local councillors.
On Thursday (November 7), Wealden District Council’s planning committee south considered a change of use application seeking permission to extend and refurbish a vacant property at 22/24 High Street.
The application had been put forward by Simon Marden Estate Agents, which aims to move into the premises as part of a business expansion plan.
Planning officers, however, had recommended the application for refusal due to concerns about its impact on the Hailsham Conservation Area and the loss of a “historic outrigger” wall through construction of the extension. A similar application had been refused on these grounds in 2017.
Before making its decision the committee heard from Simon Bray, managing director of Simon Marden Estates Agents.
Mr Bray said: “I fully accept that 22/24 High Street is within the Conservation Area as well as the fact it backs on to St Mary’s Church, which is Grade I listed. 22/24 High Street, though, is not listed.
“There is currently an unsightly flat-roofed area with barbed wire round it to prevent Hailsham’s undesirables from climbing on to it. There is also graffiti which is visible from the churchyard.
“I have been extremely eager to work with the officer and I have specifically addressed many of the objections I have had from them.
“All I want to do is expand a local business and smarten up the vicinity for the benefit of local businesses and the Grade I listed church.”
The committee also heard from Mr Bray’s structural engineer David Wood, who argued the outrigger was cracked and needed rebuilding. However, this view was not shared by the council’s own structural engineer, the committee heard.
The proposals were also supported by ward councillor Cllr Nigel Coltman. He said: “In terms of preserving the churchyard I am all for it. I don’t think this application diminishes, I think it actually improves the churchyard.
“This particular building is not preserved. It is not a Grade I [or] Grade II listed building. It is just within the conservation area.
“There is absolutely nothing about the street scene which is changed by this particular application.
“I am very strongly in favour of letting this go through. It will greatly improve the view you will get from walking through the churchyard.”
Views on the committee were split, however, with some feeling the application should be refused and others raising fears about setting a precedent for other sites.
Among those to raise concerns was Cllr Johanna Howell (Con, Frant and Wadhurst). She said: “Just because it is better than what was before, I don’t think it is as good as it could be and I think the officer’s suggestion would be preferable to what the applicant would prefer.
“I do know officers have worked hard with this gentleman and I don’t see what the problem is with going with what officers have suggested.”
Meanwhile, the council’s head of planning Chris Bending said officers were also supportive of the applicant’s aims including the extension, but disagreed with “the fine details” of the proposal.
He said officers had previously identified a potential scheme that would be recommended for approval, which had been worked up following a previous appeal decision.
Mr Bending also said a decision to approve the proposals without reference to this appeal decision could open the council up to legal action by a third-party.
Other committee members, however, felt the proposed scheme would be acceptable, despite officers’ opinions.
Cllr Bob Bowdler (Con, Horam and Punnets Town) said: “I think this is a vast improvement on what is there at the moment. I think we are really being too pedantic.
“I find very little to dislike about it and would like to support this local business by proposing we support it.”
Following further debate, the committee opted to defer making a decision on the application in an effort to find any further compromise and gather more information.
The building was formerly occupied by the nail bar Hollywood Nails, which was the scene of an arson attack in 2015.
The fire had been started by the nail bar’s owner Duc Bac Vuong, while his wife Naomi and five-month-old son George were inside.
In 2016, Vuong was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and one of arson with intent to endanger life.