Decision made on redevelopment of Heathfield shopping parade

The redevelopment of a shopping parade in Heathfield has been hesitantly refused due to concerns around its potential size.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 3:33 pm

On Wednesday (January 12), Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee North narrowly voted to reject proposals to replace a row of shops at 14 to 30 High Street with a new building containing 12 shops and up to ten flats. 

The scheme had been submitted in outline only, meaning details of the new building’s design had not been put forward and could not form part of the decision-making process.

However, the applicant did put forward some illustrative designs showing a three-storey  brick building, which saw committee members raise concerns whether the site could actually fit the level of development proposed in an acceptable way. 

Illustrative design submitted by developers

Councillors to raise concerns included Philip Lunn (Con, Crowborough South East), who said: “I think the principle of this development is entirely flawed for the reasons that have been recited by my colleagues around the table; the creation of parking issues, the exacerbation of historic water issues, all as eloquently described by my colleagues. 

“I think therefore that the principle of this particular development is completely wrong. I don’t think it should be deferred, I think it should be dismissed so there is then an opportunity for somebody to come back with a far better principle of development for this site.”

He added: “The correct way to go on this is to kick it into touch and let somebody come back with something that represents a building or development which would be more desirable on Heathfield High Street.”

Officers also had concerns about the illustrative designs, saying they would not have supported a building of the size and mass shown.

The existing shops in High Street Heathfield

However, they had also recommended that the outline application be approved, with restrictions on the future design.

Other concerns raised by the committee included the potential for flooding on the site, the impact on parking and the loss of Heathfield’s Post Office.

Many of these concerns had been brought to the committee’s attention by ward councillor Michael Baker (Con, Heathfield North), who also told members that the applicant did not own the whole site.

He also  drew attention to proposals from another landowner, who is seeking permission to build flats over part of the existing parade. 

These were not planning matters as someone does not need to own land to seek permission to develop it. It does, however, mean the actual development would face many more hurdles than planning permission alone.

While the majority of the committee eventually opted to refuse planning permission, a number of councillors were concerned about refusing the scheme on the grounds proposed. This was due to fears around appeals and the loss of control which could result from them.

Proposing the application be approved, Johanna Howell (Con, Frant & Wadhurst) said: “This is a brownfield site in the development boundary. I think our best chances of getting what we want and what Heathfield needs is to go for an approval, with the strong markers we need to send out. 

“The strong markers being that we need to have a better design. The scale, mass and design is not acceptable, it needs to be better.

“We want the Post Office secured, we would like those talks to be upheld and taken forward. [We want] to protect the trees, I also have concerns about the soil management. I want the consent reduced to two years and I want the hours changed.

“I think that will send a strong message out that although we accept the principle of development (considering it is in the development boundary and a brownfield site), we are deeply concerned about what is going to go forward. These would be our markers in the sand.”

This view was shared by a number of committee members, who also argued the approval of an outline permission would not necessarily see the development progress given the ownership and future design issues.

Despite these views, the proposals to approve the scheme were narrowly defeated with six votes to five. The scheme was then formally refused on a second vote.

For further information on the proposals see application reference WD/2018/1083/MAO on the Wealden District Council website.