Decision delayed on major Little Common housing development

Demonstration against the housing plans outside Bexhill Town Hall
Demonstration against the housing plans outside Bexhill Town Hall

A decision on controversial proposals for a major housing development at Little Common has been delayed as councillors were unable to reach a verdict.

Rother District Council’s planning committee were considering an outline application to build up to 160 homes on greenfield land to the south of Spindlewood Drive today (Thursday February 14).

After almost three hours of debate the committee was unable to reach a decision on the application, leading officers to refer the decision to a full council vote.

While committee members rejected officers’ recommendations to grant planning permission, councillors were unable to provide planning reasons for refusing the application which satisfied the committee’s chairman.

As a result no vote was held on whether to refuse the application outright.

Committee chairman Brian Kentfield (Con. – Bexhill Kewhurst) said: “If the recommendation is refusal, there is a potential that the applicant will go to appeal.

“The council then has to defend the decision of the committee.

“If we haven’t got reasons, sound planning reasons, to defend that decision, the applicant is within their rights to ask for costs.

“Even if they don’t ask for costs it would be a very expense operation, that without sound planning reasons would be lost.”

Councillors opposed to granting planning permission raised a number of possible grounds for objection, including: unacceptable pressure on infrastructure; an unacceptable increase in traffic on local roads; and concerns around whether an appropriate assessment of the ecological impact had been made in time.

However, officers warned, these reasons were not considered to have sufficient evidence to sustain at a planning appeal.

During the debate, several councillors spoke of their frustration on this point before the decision was referred to a full council vote.

Gary Curtis (Con. – Crowhurst) said: “I am a bit concerned because the committee is saying whatever the committee is saying but we are being batted off at every corner.

“What do we do? We are just going round the houses now. Can we have a vote?”

Meanwhile Deidre Earl-Williams (Association of Independents – Bexhill Collington) said: “Why even bring it to the planning committee? Let the officers make the decision. They can get the blame for it and we’ll come out of it squeaky clean.

“There is absolutely no point bringing it to planning, where we refuse it and you tell us we cant.”

It is unclear when the application is to be considered by full council, but will need to take place within the statutory limits to avoid developers launching an appeal on the grounds of a delay.

However it is unlikely to take place until members receive training on planning law, following an intervention by council leader Carl Maynard.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Maynard said: “If this matter is referred to full council, I think we all realise in this room – whether we are members of the public, members of the planning committee or indeed just members of the council – that this is an extremely important planning application with significant public interest.

“My concern is .that members of the council who are not members of the planning committee have not had the necessary regulatory training.

“In order for any decision of full council to not to be referred to a judicial review, I would imagine the necessary planning training would have to be undertaken by every single member of the council prior to that application being considered.”

The application had proven highly controversial among residents of Bexhill and Little Common, with planners receiving more than 1,500 letters objecting to the proposals.

Before beginning its debate, the committee heard from Hugh Stebbing, a chartered surveyor and member of SPINDAG (The Spindlewood Development Action Group).

The committee also heard representations on behalf of the developers from planning advisor Ben Ellis.

For further details see application reference RR/2017/1705/P on the Rother District Council planning website.