Wealden to recruit more planning officers amid ‘high number’ of major applications

Wealden District Council is seeking to recruit more planning officers as it faces a ‘high number’ of major applications. 

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 9:42 am
Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham

The topic was discussed at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Monday (November 15), where cabinet member for planning and development Ann Newton provided a report to update councillors on her portfolio. 

This report said the council has received a “high number” of major applications of all types (not just housing) and that the planning service is in the process of recruiting new staff. 

When asked for further details of this recruitment drive, Cllr Netwon said: “We do need to recruit more staff and we are actively in the process of doing that at the moment, particularly in the development management side of things.

“We are fully aware that we are a little bit understaffed and overworked, if you like. There are an awful lot of applications coming in. 

“Isabel Garden, the director, is very much on to this and we are trying to recruit staff, which isn’t always that easy.”

She added: “To be quite frank, as well, the private sector offers an awful lot more money so I am encouraging the relevant portfolio holder to look at staff salaries in general.

“I think perhaps we need a bit of an overhaul for want of a better phrase.”

While not discussed during the meeting, Cllr Newton’s also report noted that the council had recently concluded two High Court cases surrounding its decisions on housing developments in Hailsham. 

The first was connected to the 169-home Oaklands development in Ersham Road, while the second was connected to a development on Mill Road.

The Mill Road case surrounded the environmental impact of the development, with applicants arguing the council had failed to properly take into account case law and the  Habitats Regulation Assessment linked to the now withdrawn 2019 Local Plan when making its decision. 

The High Court disagreed and the case was dismissed on its papers.

The Oaklands case, however, was subject to a full High Court hearing.

Planning permission was originally granted for the development in May 2020, on the grounds that 35 per cent  of it –  i.e. 59 homes – would be affordable housing. 

However, the site was later acquired by the housing provider Stonewater, which wanted to provide a 100 per cent affordable scheme instead.

This would have made the developer eligible for Community Infrastructure Levy relief, meaning it would not have to pay some £3m towards local infrastructure improvements. 

The council argued this would not fit with the original permission and the development should not go ahead as a result. Ultimately, the High Court agreed and vetoed the 100 per cent affordable scheme.