Major Crowborough housing development narrowly refused

Proposals to build a major housing development in Crowborough have been refused by Wealden planners in a knife edge vote.

On Thursday (March 5), Wealden District Council’s planning committee north rejected an outline planning application seeking permission to build up to 119 homes on land to the north of Eridge Road.

The application had previously been before the committee in February, but was deferred (following a lengthy debate) as members wanted to consult again with East Sussex Highways on details of the roads surrounding the scheme. 

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In light of this previous discussion, some members of the committee argued that the debate should be limited to this issue, although this saw some concerns raised by other councillors.

Among those to raise concerns was Gareth Owen-Williams (Lib Dem, Crowborough Jarvis Brook),  who said: “We clearly have a lot of fresh information, some of which has been presented by the applicant here today. I think we would be failing in our legal duty if we didn’t consider that new information.

“I think there are so many factors which are against this and I think we would be failing in our duty. When it has gone through other similar sites will go through in other places.

“We are not short of reasons [to refuse]. The weight of evidence is on that side.”

Cllr Owen-Williams went on to argue these outstanding issues – including the potential impact on the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural – would be grounds to refuse the application outright. He was seconded by Maresfield councillor Peter Roundell (Con).

This argument saw some criticism from others in the committee, however.

Neil Waller (Con, Crowborough South West) said: “We did discuss the AONB, the historical assets and the nearby traffic, ecology and flood risks last time, during the hour and a quarter debate – one of the longest debates I have ever been in as a member of this committee.

“It was deferred on one item only – traffic issues. We asked our officers to go to [East Sussex] Highways and seek their explanation as to why the 30mph speed limit could not be extended. They have done that and we have the answer.

“I’m therefore slightly confused as to why the proposer and seconder, who were both here last time, want to reopen debate. To my mind  the debate should only be on traffic.”

Cllr Roundell disagreed with this and urged the committee to refuse the scheme and fight the appeal which would be expected to follow.

He said: “We are going to make a disastrous decision if we don’t refuse this and, as I said right at the beginning, we should allow this to go to appeal and let them make that decision. 

“I think there are still several issues which have not been satisfactorily resolved. I don’t think the ecology issue [and] the potential new listing [of Luxford Farm House] have been addressed.

“I don’t think we have had a good debate and I just have a horror that in 20 or 30 years time, then we will have very little AONB left, because it all will have been concreted over.

“I would just let it go to appeal. There is such an important precedent being established here that it is worth the legal costs. If we are going to lose legal costs, then let’s get on with it.”

Officers – who had recommended the application be approved – strongly advised against this course of action, describing it as a ‘dereliction of duty’.

They also argued that many of the arguments had already been aired as part of an earlier appeal at a development site in Steel Cross. 

Following further debate, however, the application was narrowly refused on a vote of six to five. 

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