Proposals for a major housing development in Crowborough have been narrowly granted outline planning permission despite concerns around highways issues.
At a meeting on Thursday (August 23), Wealden District Council planners gave outline approval to plans to build up to 85 houses on greenfield land to the north of Walshes Road.
Developers had initially been seeking to build up to 100 houses on the site but a late update saw the figure capped at 85 to reflect the construction or approval of other properties in the area.
The application was narrowly granted – six votes in favour to five against – despite calls for deferral from several councillors who raised concerns over the quality of evidence provided by East Sussex Highways.
Arguing for deferral, Conservative councillor for Crowborough West Jeannette Towey said: “I am actually horrified by this. I have personally been in contact with highways to try and understand where they are coming from and have met with, if not exactly a wall of silence then more, a wall of fluff.
“The major problem I have is that I think the traffic surveys are not here in full. A lot of work has been done on Walshes Road however there has been no surveys whatsoever of traffic on Luxford Road or Luxford Lane.”
Cllr Towey also raised concerns over the late update – criticising the degree of change within it.
She said: “It bothers me enormously that we have changes like that at the last minute. If we proposed changes like that to a meeting we would be told we have to look at the application as is.
“I think this has come too early. I think it should be deferred for a full traffic study of Luxford Road and to make sure we have all the numbers right and everything else because it seems to me that this has been done in a hurry.”
Cllr Towey’s arguments were supported by fellow Crowborough councillor and Wealden Independents group leader Stephen Isted.
He said: “Every time we have to listen East Sussex County Council Highways – it doesn’t matter which application – we always disagree. As local councillors we know that it is absolute rubbish.
“I would like us to meet with East Sussex Highways, the officers, and ask them to explain exactly how they have come to that conclusion because it doesn’t fit in with the facts.
“I really think we should defer this and get all the information because it is going to have such a major, major impact.”
However other councillors expressed concerns with this line of argument, while officers highlighted the legal council’s legal duty to consider the highways report.
Senior planning officer Chris Bending said: “As a [planning] authority we have to be careful. We have to take the highways advice as read. They are the experts in this field and we are not. We have to start as that as our position.
“The highways authority has given us a fairly robust response initially and then, this week, responded with further guidance to this authority in response to specific questions from members.
“It is those specific points on which we disagree with them on – even with really cogent and decent reasons for doing so – that I think we need to be careful. We have to take their advice as read and move forward.”
Following further debate Jonica Fox (Con – Cross-in-Hand and Five Ashes) put forward a motion to grant outline planning permission.
She said: “For me I’m struggling with it as local members are arguing about highways matters but it seems to me to be very clear that there has been a lot of work done on the highways. There has been a lot of assessment and a lot of measurement.
“Now we can all argue the toss about whether they did it perfectly, optimally, adequately or poorly, but I felt personally that I can’t judge that. What I do know is that as a council we have to take the advice of our statutory consultees.
“In this case highways, the statutory consultee, has responded to very detailed questions with assurances that their scheme will solve some of the current problems and mitigate any future problems. As a councillor I have to take that at face value.”
This motion, with the addition of a condition prohibiting building work from taking place until road improvements are completed, was passed six votes to five.
As the application was for outline planning permission only, the developer must gain further approval for reserved matters before any building work can begin.