Decision on major Crowborough development reversed

A controversial housing development in Crowborough has been approved after returning to planners for a second debate. 

On Friday (July 10), Wealden District Council’s planning committee north reconsidered outline proposals for a 119-home development on land north of Eridge Road, which had previously been refused in a knife edge vote in March. 

While refused at that earlier meeting, the application had been brought back to the committee in light of concerns being raised about the decision-making process and subsequent legal advice.

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As with the previous application, opinions were split among committee members.

 Gary Johnson (Con, Uckfield Ridgewood and Little Horsted) said: “I have considered this item with an open mind and I have considered all of the evidence before me today thus far and I am of the mind that this is a dangerous precedent. 

“It is outside of the development boundary, it is an unjustified encroachment into the AONB and I am not really seeing anything which is persuading me different to that so far. 

“[National planning policy] tells us we should be giving great weight to preserving the AONB and we should be resisting major development within the AONB, which this is.  We are weighing up this again, against this lack of a five-year [housing] supply.

“[But] there are a lot of houses being built in Crowborough, we know that, and this just does not tick any boxes that suggest we should be building here.”

Several other councillors shared Cllr Johnson’s views, arguing that the development would cause more harm than benefit. 

Other committee members, however, felt the balance fell in favour of development .

Cllr Neil Waller (Con, Crowborough South West) said: “Let’s deal with the facts of this case. It is within the AONB. The site is adjacent to a listed building and the site is outside the development boundary. Given those facts we should refuse unless there are material considerations. 

“The material consideration is the lack of a five-year land supply, at 3.67 years. Our source document for that is the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which says we should approve unless the adverse impact exceeds the benefit. 

“So what are the benefits of this site? Well, 35 per cent affordable housing; it is the most sustainable location in Crowborough; it will add to local economy and jobs; there will be CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) receipts; there will be the provision of public open space and there will be highway improvements, although not everybody believes they are improvements.

“For me this subjective decision comes down to the fact, in my mind, that the benefits do outweigh the impact.”

Following further debate the scheme was approved with seven votes in favour and five against.

The previous decision to refuse the scheme had not been enacted, the council says, as a result of the concerns raised.

So far the council has declined to comment on the specifics of the concerns raised over the decision-making or who had raised them, but says it is holding an internal review related to the matter.

Before moving to debate, councillors were asked to confirm they came to the meeting with an open mind and were not predetermined.

Some committee members – councillors Joanna Howell and Helen Firth – meanwhile raised concerns that developers had lobbied in their wards, posting leaflets asking residents to directly contact them about the application.

The site itself is made up of four fields next to Goldsmiths Leisure Centre and its car park, as well as a caravan and camping site. The site is also next to Luxford Farm house, a listed building.

The proposals have proven to be highly controversial, largely due to concerns around the impact on the local road network but also because of its potential impact on the High Weald AONB and the Ashdown Forest.

Despite these concerns the scheme had been recommended for approval subject to conditions, largely because the council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land. 

As a result, the national planning rules say permission should be granted unless the adverse impacts of doing so would ‘significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’ when considered against other national planning rules.

For further information see application reference WD/2017/2197/MAO on the Wealden District Council planning website.

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