On Thursday (December 2), Wealden District Council’s planning committee south approved an outline application from developer Gladman to build up to 65 homes on land off of Bexhill Road.
While recommended for approval by officers, the scheme had proven to be controversial among local residents, who had particular concerns around the growth of the village when combined with other developments.
Some of these concerns were voiced by ward councillor Pam Doodes (Con), who called on the committee to ‘at least’ defer their decision.
Cllr Doodes said: “I can’t tell you how devastating this is for local people, to be in this position.
“I’m not sure if you realise, we’ve got two developments on to one road within metres of each other. We are going to have a really difficult, dangerous part of the road just on the edge of the village.”
She added:” This is just an outline application but make no mistake, by voting today to agree this you are voting for up to 65 houses to be built on quality agricultural land.
“That is a fact. There is 20 acres of quality agricultural land which will be lost forever. No going back.
“This is meant to be a rural area. We are trying to protect our rural areas. We are trying to protect the quality of living for people in Wealden and I think this is a very, very difficult position you are in.
“I wish the decision you are going to make is different from the one I think you are going to make.”
Residents’ objections covered a wide range of issues, with particular concerns around the impact of further growth on the village and pressures on infrastructure.
Residents also criticised the quality of the officer’s report and recommendations. A particular criticism was around the number of objections presented in the report.
The report said the council had received 30 objections at the date of its publication. At the date of the hearing, however, the council had a total of 121 objections. Residents argued the report (and the application itself) had been brought to the committee too soon.
The report was also written before the council had received a response from Ninfield Parish Council. Its response (a call for the scheme to be refused on a wide range of planning grounds) was addressed in an update at the meeting, but did not change the officers’ recommendation.
It was also argued that as the site falls outside of Ninfield’s development boundary it goes against council planning policy and should be refused.
Officers, however, argued the district’s lack of a five-year meant a balancing exercise (with a presumption in favour of development) needed to take place.
This balance, officers said, fell in favour of development as there were no material reasons to refuse it.
This argument appeared to resonate with committee members, including Cllr Neil Waller (Con), who said: “I really think we should look at what we are being asked to consider today, not what we are not being asked to consider. This is an outline application with all matters reserved with exception of the main site access.
“As you will see from the report, [East Sussex] Highways raise no objection. I think for us to raise any kind of objection or refusal based on highways grounds or site access would be sending us down a rabbit hole.
“Many of the points which have been raised in the debate so far sit with the reserved matters, so I think they are red herrings today.”
Cllr Waller went on to say the other developments approved for the village were of a similar nature to the application and argued that without highways reasons to refuse the scheme outline approval should be granted.
He also proposed the application be approved in line with the officers’ recommendation.
Following further discussion the application was approved on a majority decision.
Although the exact mix of housing is among these undetermined details, the developer says 23 units would be affordable.
The proposed access would connect to Bexhill Road and with the development to include new bus stops to serve the estate.
For further details of the proposals see application reference WD/2021/2454/MAO on the Wealden District Council website.