Tuesday, April 24 2018

Published on April 12 2018. Opinions
Nursing home poised for approval
Site layout plan showing the position of the new care home

Nursing home poised for approval

Rother District Council’s planning department has recommended approval of the controversial proposal for a 60-bed nursing home in Rye Foreign, on land that forms part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The final decision will be made at a full meeting of RDC’s Planning Committee in Bexhill next Thursday, April 19.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support a nursing home in or close to Rye. However, I’ve been opposing this particular plan for some time because I feel there are better places for this facility than inside the AONB, which is protected by law. We’ve lost enough of our open spaces to development and it’s time we put our heads together to find more suitable locations for this sort of facility — be they brownfields sites or wherever. Rye’s very identity, and its tourist economy, depends on its position in the natural landscape.

I also support our local GPs at Rye Medical Centre, all of whom have lodged their “grave concerns” about the £8m nursing home, warning that the extra clinical burden will be unsustainable. People have been asking what the impact will be on appointment waiting times and the answer is that they will rise.

Although 25% of the nursing home beds (15 patients) will apparently be reserved for local people, most of whom can be reasonably expected to be existing patients of Rye Medical Centre, it’s possible that many of the remaining 45 residents will come from outside the area, imposing an unacceptable workload on the medical centre’s doctors.

Rother DC’s planning report which recommends approval of the nursing home makes fascinating reading, especially to someone who’s been acquinted with this project as long as I have.

The planning officer’s main argument is that although the development will harm the AONB’s landscape and scenic beauty, the building appears to form “part of the existing urban envelope”. I nearly dropped my cup of tea on the cat when I read that assertion. In fact, I took the trouble to look again at the ‘Block Plan’ document, an aerial view of the proposed development, which shows just how much the nursing home would project into the open landscape of the AONB.

For Rye News readers’ information, I’m attaching a copy of this plan for their perusal. I’ve highlighted two of the existing buildings, St Bartholemew’s Court and the Rye Medical Centre and I’ve added a dotted black line which seems to be the best fit for the building line. I’ll leave it to readers to reach their own conclusions about whether the building sticks out.

Rother District Council admitted to me several months ago that the proposed development projects over the development/settlement boundary.

I don’t deny that some useful design and mitigation measures have been proposed to help reduce the building’s impact in the landscape, but to suggest — as RDC planning inexplicably does — that the facility “would not extend further into the countryside than the existing cluster of dwellings in Old School Place” beggars belief when one looks at the Block Plan.

Many people have asked why the very large former Hill House Hospital, a Grade II listed building only 59 metres from the nursing home development site, could not be converted into a care home, at less expense than the proposed project. At present, only one family is living in the old Hill House building, which could easily accommodate 30+ residents. RDC’s planning report includes no discussion of this option.

Indeed, the size of the new nursing home has sparked much of the opposition, especially when a 25-bed (nursing care) demand for Rye, rather than 60, has been identified by East Sussex’s Supply Development Manager for Bedded Care. Many of the problems associated with the project would fall away if a smaller facility was mooted.

This nursing home is not chicken feed: it’s set to be Rye’s largest development project. Of concern is the relatively poor awareness of local people about this project. Some people wrongly believe it’s going to be built alongside the A268 Rye Road, when this is the site of the Memorial Hospital’s proposed day care centre — the former ambulance station site.

I firmly believe a nursing home is needed by the people of Rye, but it should be a smaller home more suited to Rye’s population and which doesn’t impose unacceptable workloads on our doctors. The Memorial Hospital’s concept of an “interactive care village” is something I don’t buy into. St Bartholemew’s Court, which the hospital planned as an “extra care” retirement home, rapidly became pure social housing, with a ground rent going to the hospital. The hospital will charge a similar rent to the nursing home operator, Greensleeves Care.

An “interactive care village” can surely only function if the doctors support it, and it’s clear that they do not want the nursing home in its present form.

Another matter of concern is that RDC didn’t acknowledge in its planning report any of the objectives and aspirations contained in Rye Town Council’s new Rye Neighbourhood Plan. This strongly opposes development in the AONB and seeks to “protect strategic and green gaps around Rye”, as well as preventing urban sprawl in the town’s surrounding green spaces.

“Rye must continue to feel compact,” the plan says. “Outside the development boundary, development will be restricted to that for which a countryside location is necessary . . . Any development on the edge of Rye will be controlled to protect the designated areas surrounding Rye…”.

I very much hope we can solve these thorny planning issues with sensible, well-reasoned debate and reach solutions which protect Rye’s unique environment, as well as providing care for our elderly people.

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  1. Len Saxon says:

    The building certainly looks like it sticks out significantly. If you shift the building line/development boundary to the west (the bottom of the picture) to include the nursing home, you’d create a massive area of empty land to the north — in other words, a new area that cannot possibly be within the development boundary.
    I’ve managed to see a copy of the RDC’s agenda report for the Planning Committee meeting on 19 April, and I note the diagram they use is marked ‘Not To Scale’ and it doesn’t even include the proposed nursing home building! I find this hard to believe. Surely the public and Councillors deserve to see an accurate map which shows the correct (to scale) position of the site and the building! We deserve to receive the correct information about this proposal.

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