Highly controversial proposals for a major housing development in Little Common are to go back before a planning committee following further submissions from objectors.
At an extraordinary full council meeting on Monday (March 4), Rother councillors agreed to refer an outline application to build up to 160 homes on greenfield land to the south of Spindlewood Drive back to the district’s planning committee.
The application had been brought to the full council after the committee was unable to reach a decision on the application at a meeting last month.
While recommendations to grant planning permission were rejected at the previous meeting, councillors were unable to provide planning reasons for refusal which satisfied the committee’s chairman Brian Kentfield.
But speaking in front of a packed public gallery on Monday, Cllr Kentfield asked for the matter to return to the planning committee in light of further information from local objectors.
He said: “The intention was this evening for full council to consider a planning application referred to in the report.
“However it now appears that information has been received by the members from the objectors, which was not submitted to the local planning authority.
“On this basis, it is essential this information needs to be placed in the public domain and comments sought from respondents.
“I therefore move this planning application be referred back to the planning committee for determination.
“This will allow the objectors the opportunity to submit the folder marked revised March 2019, which some members only received this morning.
“Officers will then be able to examine the document and allow a further period of consultation with the relevant bodies. This will ensure a fair and equitable process for all parties in this application.”
While the council ultimately agreed for the application to return to the planning committee, several councillors raised concerns about deferring a decision.
Bexhill Sackville councillor Patrick Douart (Conservative) said: “I really don’t see the point, the planning committee could not come to a decision at the time and that is why we are here today at full council.
“What is the point of the full council to refer it back to the planning committee which couldn’t agree in the first place?
Concerns were also voiced by Bexhill St Michaels councillor Charles Clark (Independent). He said: “This application has received a lot of attention and I think the arguments for and against, and the information we require to make a decision, are well rehearsed.
“I think we should proceed.”
However other councillors advised caution, arguing that most members did not have the appropriate level of training or enough knowledge of the site.
They included Darwell councillor Eleanor Kirby-Green (Conservative), who had spoken against the application at the meeting in February.
She said: “It is critical, in an application of this importance, that anyone who is voting on it should have visited the site.
“We have had an hour’s training. That isn’t equivalent to the normal training planning members get, so I think [the motion to refer] is absolutely right. I don’t think it should have been referred to full council in the first place.”
Following a short debate councillors unanimously agreed for the application to return to the planning committee at a later date.
The decision was guardedly welcomed by campaigners Richard Caie and Hugh Stebbing of SPINDAG (The Spindlewood Development Action Group), the group which produced the document laying out detailed objections to the proposals.
Mr Stebbing, who had been expected to address the council at the meeting, said: “It was an unexpected but probably good decision.
“If one just thinks about all the circumstances and the challenges that non-planning committee members have in making a decision on what is one of the most controversial planning applications Rother has had in many a long year.
“It would not be good decision-making for a decision of such significance to be made by people who have little practical training, little practical experience and have never seen the site.”
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.
A large group of objectors also attended the meeting on Monday, with some initially turned away after the council chamber reached capacity.
The LDRS understands an overflow room was set up where others could listen in on the meeting, but it is unclear whether all members of the public seeking to attend were able to.
It is also unclear when the planning committee will sit to consider the application again, other than it will not be at its next meeting on March 14.
The committee will meet again on April 18 and then again on May 30, after the May 2 council elections.
Speaking after the meeting, council leader Carl Maynard said: “First of all I was delighted to see so many members of the public turn up to what was obviously an extremely important meeting for all Rother district councillors.
“I think the decision to refer it back to the planning committee was the right one. I think it is hugely important that any decision made stands up against any possible legal challenge.
“For officers to reference the changes in the NPPF and also examine the submission from Spindag thoroughly, will enable planning committee members to consider the application comprehensively at a subsequent meeting.”
For further details see application reference RR/2017/1705/P on the Rother District Council planning website.