Ringmer defends its countryside

Development site, Bishops Lane, Ringmer. SUS-140925-110628001
Development site, Bishops Lane, Ringmer. SUS-140925-110628001

Ringmer parish councillors and residents attended last week’s two-day public hearing of Gleeson’s controversial proposal to build up to 110 homes on land north of Bishops Lane.

The scheme was supported by Lewes District planners but recommended for refusal by Ringmer Parish and District councillors. Gleesons submitted a second, virtually identical, application last February. That too was refused by members. Gleesons appealed and fielded a substantial team of expert witnesses to defend their proposal before a Government Inspector.

Parish Council chairman John Kay told the Express a planning agent from Parker Dann attended on behalf of Lewes District Council. His job was to provide relevant information to the Inspector when requested.

Developers were represented by their own QC, Christopher Boyle, who was assisted by five separate consultants with expertise in planning, highways, drainage and sewage, ecology and landscape.

Mr Kay said that local people who attended were able to represent their views - many with ‘commendable brevity’ - although a slightly longer statement was made by Sy Morse-Brown, chairman of the Priory Trust and North Ringmer Residents’ Group and by the parish council.

The community’s response to the Inspector focused on what they considered was the ‘lack of a level playing field;’ what they believed to be a ‘synthetic’ concern for affordable housing (reduced from 40 per cent in 2013 to 25 per cent recently;) inadequacy of infrastructure and severe sewage issues.

They put forward a robust defence against charges of so-called nimbyism.

A carefully worded summing up from residents also concerned the final issue of the Lewes District Housing Land Supply, (HLS.)

It pointed out that the April 1 Lewes HLS is ‘robust, in our view understated and the position has strengthened since then with more than 220 new permissions on four newly-approved major sites along, none included on the April 2015 list.’

Residents were furious that on one side of the debate there was a well-resourced, strategic land company whose business model was not to build houses but to gain and sell on planning permissions. This, they pointed out, was set against a ‘motley band of rank amateurs who do not have the same professional skills but do know their village and community.’

They said they are inspired by nothing more than the wish to make their village a better place and believe fervently in the premise of localism. “What we want,” said one, “is the power to develop a shared vision of our village, to deliver the sustainable development it needs.”

The Bishops Lane scheme was set against the four years work that has gone into creating the voluntary Ringmer Neighbourhood Plan.

One resident said they felt: “Mr Boyle has worked hard to portray some of us as NIMBYs but I think you will agree that Ringmer is not that sort of village” explaining a stand-out feature of the Neighbourhood Plan process was total village support for a second home supporting living for adults with learning difficulties.

The application has been called in by the Secretary of State and the outcome is unlikely to be known before 2016. In associated documents Gleesons say ‘there has been a material change to planning policy considerations in relation to the Joint Core Strategy Local Plan and Ringmer Neighbourhood Plan which are now at a more advanced stage than when the previous plan was submitted.’

They say housing would support existing facilities and would be in easy walking distance of the village as well as accessible to Lewes. Contributions would also be made to support early years education, libraries, rights of way, waste and recycling, signage and ensuring visibility improvements. A former LDC Inquiry stated if enough housing allocation is not found within the main towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Seaford and Peacehaven then Ringmer could be the best option.

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