On Wednesday (January 19), Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee approved an outline application to build up to 28 homes on land previously used as a woodland garden at the Spyway School site on the north of Gillsmans Hill.
While eventually approved, several councillors expressed concerns about the impact of the proposals on a nearby area of ancient woodland, a small strip of which would be lost as a result of an access track to the new houses.
For some councillors this loss of ancient woodland meant the scheme could not be supported. Among them was Phil Scott (Lab, Wishing Tree), who said: “For me that is just totally unacceptable. The biodiversity and loss of forestry in that particular area, I know has been quite intense over the years.
“We know that there is a large badger population there and obviously other wildlife attached to the area as well. That is well documented so I am not content on a number of areas and I will not support this application.”
Despite concerns around the loss of this strip of ancient woodland, officers confirmed this loss had already been agreed as part of an earlier application to build eight houses on a directly adjoining site.
The proposed homes would share an access track with the earlier application, from which the loss of ancient woodland has already been agreed. No further woodland would be lost as a result of the outline scheme.
The site also forms part of an area which was allocated for up to 33 houses in Hastings Borough Council’s local plan. With the eight already approved, the final number of houses could be as high as 36.
Another area of concern was highway safety on Gillsmans Hill, but no objections had been raised by East Sussex Highways as long as agreed conditions were put in place.
With this in mind, Cllr Scott chose not to put forward a motion to refuse the application as it was felt there were no policy-based reasons to do so.
Following this committee agreed to approve the scheme on a majority vote.
Proposing approval, Matthew Beaver (Con, West St Leonards) said: “I have every sympathy with what Cllr Scott has said. Any loss of ancient woodland is to be honestly resisted, however, from what the officers have said, I think that the loss of ancient woodland has already been agreed under the previous application.
“So while I have sympathy for Cllr Scott under that point, this is no further loss as [it] has already been incorporated with the previous application for eight houses on the north west of the site.
“Am I concerned that the site is [allocated] for up to 33 and they are asking for 28 when it could be 25? Yes, of course. However [it] falls within the parameters of the National Planning Policy Framework and also within our own policies.”
He added: “I agree with Cllr Scott. It is a very, very difficult site to judge. However on balance there are as far as I can see, very few reasons for this not to go ahead.
“So on balance, and perhaps with a heavier heart than I would like on some of these applications, I will propose this goes ahead.”
For further details on the proposals see application reference HS/OA/20/00022 on the Hastings Borough Council website.