Detailed plans for 70 new Bexhill homes approved amidst concerns about impact on Pevensey Levels
The next stage of a controversial housing development in Bexhill has been given the go ahead by Rother planners.
Earlier today (Thursday August 12), Rother District Council’s planning committee approved a reserved matters application for a 70-home housing development at Clavering Walk.
The scheme, from developers Bellway Homes, was granted outline planning permission for up to 85 houses in April last year after a decision to refuse was overturned at appeal.
The scheme had proven to be highly controversial with residents, largely due to how close it would be to the ecologically-sensitive Pevensey Levels.
While an appropriate assessment concluded that the development would not have an adverse effect on the protected habitat (as long as there were sufficient mitigations in place), objectors argued this report was flawed and, as a result, did not conform to the habitat regulations.
Speaking on behalf of the Bellway Opposition Action Group (BOAG), objector Christine Forster laid out why this was such a major concern for residents. She said: “The habitats regulations have precedent over all other planning considerations.
“It is our case that the appropriate assessment contains lacunae [i.e. gaps in information], is not complete or concise and does not meet the stringent requirements of the habitats regulations.
“If this conclusion is reached by the committee, the application cannot be approved and reserved matters do not need to be considered.
“If the committee determines, however, that it requires more certainty that the measures proposed will make an effective contribution to avoiding harm it could decide to defer the decision.
“We believe that the committee cannot be sufficiently certain, where plans are not in place, to demonstrate that they will make an effective contribution to avoiding harm.”
Ms Forster went on to say BOAG would – if the committee took a different view – want to see ‘stringent conditions’ and a further appropriate assessment as ‘critical issues’ remained unsecured.
These issues included who would be responsible for maintaining the drainage system of the site and how effective it would be in the long term (particularly given the impact of climate change).
These arguments appeared to have some significant support among committee members, with councillors grilling both officers and developers on these details.
Several councillors also criticised the appropriate assessment, raising similar concerns as those raised by BOAG. There was also some discussion (first raised by Cllr Richard Thomas) around whether the appropriate assessment should also give consideration to pollutants such as microplastics affecting the Levels.
There was also some criticism of the wider environmental design of the development.
In light of these concerns the committee considered a motion to defer its decision until further information could be provided around these issues.
However, this motion was defeated when put to the vote.
Ultimately, the committee concluded that reserved matters permission could be granted, albeit with some further conditions. These included more detailed restrictions on surface water drainage on parts of the site.
Committee chairman Jonathan Vine-Hall said: “I’m really sensitive to this application, as we have been to the other ones in the area.
“You have two things; you have an application that was refused then accepted at appeal then you have a recent application at Spindlewood which has got to inform this committee about the attitude of the inspectorate, which does tend to reflect the attitude of the government as well, even though it shouldn’t do.
“If you refused it or even deferred it you can make an assessment for yourself as to what you think the possibility of success at appeal is.”
He added: “The appropriate assessments are a very tricky area and I think these applications have brought the difficulty of them through.
“I do accept also the points Cllr Thomas makes with the level of pollutants. I think we are all aware of these issues coming forward – they are in our face – but the law and policy tends to lag.
“That’s the issue we face and I think it would be a fruitless argument at appeal quite frankly. I would love to have the argument, I don’t think you are factually incorrect quite frankly, but that doesn’t make it any more successful.
“The advice I always give is know the things you can change and the things you can’t, have a Plan B and make sure you can get from this as much as you want to.”
For further information on the application see reference RR/2020/2260/P on the Rother District Council website.