Next Thursday (December 9), Wealden District Council’s Planning Committee North (PCN) will consider outline proposals to build up to 700 new homes on agricultural land known as Mornings Mill Farm, off of Eastbourne Road in Lower Willingdon.
The scheme was previously considered by the council’s other planning committee — Planning Committee South (PCS) — last month, where councillors voted to refuse the development.
After the vote was cast, however, the application was called-in, as committee chairman Susan Stedman (Con, Horam & Punnetts Town) felt there were no ‘technical reasons’ for refusing the application.
As a result, the application has been referred for a new hearing by PCN.
Unlike the previous hearing, the council’s normal rules on public speaking will not apply. This has come in for significant criticism from objectors.
Wealden District Council has been approached for comment.
The call-in itself has also come in for criticism from objectors, as well as some councillors.
At a meeting of PCS on Thursday (December 2), Neil Cleaver (LDem, Hailsham North West) argued the call-in procedure had not been correctly followed, as the proposing members had not properly laid out their planning reasons for referring the scheme to PCN.
During the same meeting, Stephen Shing (Lower Willingdon), leader of the Independent Democrat group, also criticised how the council had dealt with his group’s submissions about the application.
He argued a video submitted by Raymond Shing (Ind Dem, Upper Willingdon) should have been played to the committee before it made its decision. It was not allowed to be played at the meeting as officers said it had come in after the deadline for submissions.
But Mr Stephen Shing disputed that this video had been submitted after the deadline, and also pointed to a statement read out on behalf of Alastair Douglas (Con, Stone Cross), which was read out at the meeting in connection with another application.
He argued that as Cllr Douglas’ statement had submitted after the deadline for submissions it showed ‘bias’ against his group, which he also claimed had faced ‘discrimination and harrassment’ and ‘bullying’ from officers and members of PCS.
A Wealden District Council spokesman said: “We are aware of serious concerns raised by Cllr Stephen Shing at Planning Committee South today.
“At the time of writing, the meeting is still live, with relevant members still sitting and considering applications.
“At this stage, no formal complaint has been received from Cllr Shing, however this will be discussed with Cllr Shing following the meeting.
“We operate a strict Code of Officer and Member Conduct and will take any complaint by Cllr Shing very seriously and will investigated in accordance with that code.
“We are unable to make further comment while the investigation is taking place.
The PCS decision to refuse the application went against advice from officers, who argued the reasons for refusal would be difficult to defend at appeal.
Officers’ advice had centred around a planning appeal on a previous application to develop the site.
This earlier application, which had sought permission for 1,100-homes in 2017, was never determined by Wealden District Council and the applicant lodged an appeal on the grounds of non-determination.
During that appeal, the applicant made some significant amendments to their plans, reducing the total housing to 700. However, the planning inspector ultimately dismissed the appeal on highway safety concerns.
Officers said these issues had now been resolved (noting that no objections were raised by East Sussex Highways) meaning there were no other grounds for refusal considered sound by the planning inspector.
When coupled with Wealden’s lack of a five-year supply of housing, which brings a presumption in favour of development, officers said the application should be approved.
Even so, the proposals have remained highly controversial with local residents, with the council having received more than 800 representations on the application.
As well as objections from local residents and other councils, the scheme had also seen concerns raised by local MPs Caroline Ansell and Maria Caulfield, who have asked for the application to be called in by the secretary of state should it be approved.
If approved by PCN, further planning permission would be needed before construction could begin on the site. At present it is expected that 245 of the 700 homes would be classed as affordable.
As well as housing, the final site could include 8,600 square metres of employment space, a medical centre, a school, playing fields, children’s play space and allotments.
For further information on the proposals see application reference WD/2021/0174/MEA on the Wealden District Council website.