Townscape matters

Shades of brown: The George Hotel

As life in Rye gears up to a lively summer season, the Rye Conservation Society has been kept similarly busy engaging across numerous planning, development and conservation issues concerning our town. Here is a summary of some of the key happenings.

A major concern for the Society is the situation at Rother District Council as the planning team struggles to recruit and retain people. The shortfall in staff has placed increasing workloads on a dwindling headcount and the impact of this is manifested in extended time to process applications and ability to effectively tackle planning issues as they emerge.

The George Hotel
A good example of this is the situation with The George Hotel. The restoration of this prominent building and key business is well under way with the scaffolding being dismantled at long last. It has, however, transpired that a large number of amendments to the application for consent to rebuild have not yet been approved by Rother, meantime work on site is pressing on towards its conclusion. Whilst some consent changes can be expected when restoring a badly damaged historic building, the Society is particularly concerned about one very visible amendment to the treatment of the façade along the High Street and Lion Street. Here the historic “stone” or cream colours are to be replaced by darker “brick” brown colours as illustrated above. The Society has raised concerns with Rother that, whilst the we fully understand the commercial and social necessity of bringing The George back into operation, this should not be in a form that we believe is historically incorrect and that will significantly affect the listed building and the setting of the Conservation Area.

Building colours and conservation areas
The change to the external colour of the George and the need for it to be granted as part of the planning and listed building consent highlights the additional constraints that apply within the Rye Conservation Area as a result of the imposition of an Article 4 Directive. This Directive limits the usually permitted development rights and requires that any change of colour or the painting of an unpainted area of any building in the Conservation Area requires planning and where applicable listed building consent. The Society has noticed a number of other Conservation Area properties where recent changes in paint colour have appeared apparently without consent, we will be looking into this further.

The Directive also limits what a property owner can do even if the property is not listed. The necessary consents will be required for new or replacement windows and doors, new external openings, changes to roof materials and roof lights, porches and any external structures in the garden, works to fences and walls, hardstandings and finally the provision of a satellite dish anywhere on the property.

Housing and the future of planning
Continuing on a planning theme, major reforms are being formulated by the government, some of which are proving highly controversial, with concerns emerging that this could lead to more housing on sensitive sites, as it becomes easier to push through housing developments against local wishes. One aspect of the government white paper “Planning for the Future” is explored in the Society’s most recent newsletter which considers the proposed National Model Design Code to be trialled across a handful of local authorities. The government states that when applied locally the Design Code will promote “local character and preferences about the form and appearance of development”. The Society will be interested to see how these principles are determined in practice, in particular as there are currently no associated proposals to address the lack of investment in the planning system, one of the main causes of the perceived failure of the current process. With the current impoverished state of planning in Rother, the Society is concerned about what future changes or relaxation of planning rules could mean for Rye and its surroundings.

High Street
Other new planning rules (or relaxations) are that about to come into play include enabling easier conversion of commercial property such as shops into residential units. This risks speeding up the decline of already struggling High Streets and there are numerous historic towns which used to have many shops but which are now mostly housing. We must ensure our currently vibrant High Street is not similarly threatened.

Looking beyond planning, the Society has welcomed Rother re-engaging with local stakeholders to consider the future of our Landgate. Next steps have been agreed, including some immediate maintenance works, but much work is required to secure a sustainable plan for the future of this historic structure. Another less historic structure, but one of community value, is the Methodist church which is about to close as the congregation relocates. The Society looks forward to taking a keen interest in seeking a continued community use for this building.

Turning to our streets, the Society has been consulting with East Sussex County Council’s lighting engineers to consider installing less bright lamps, in particular where they are close to buildings as illustrated in this picture. The overly bright light can be a nuisance to neighbours and the light pollution can detract from the surrounding built environment. It is hoped to use Rye as a test bed to identify and install better, more sensitive and controllable lamps.

‘A’ Boards
As businesses re-opened earlier this year, a perennial issue of the proliferation of poorly located ’A’ Boards was again raised. These boards often block already narrow pavements and create a more challenging environment for those with added mobility issues. The Society advised on the approach to best practice guidelines and how to approach East Sussex council when they are not properly observed.

Continuing on the theme of nuisance on our streets, excessive motorcycle noise continues to bother our members and many others across the community. The Society has written to our MP Sally-Ann Hart and to the Minister for Transport, Grant Schapps, as reported in Rye News. There are studies taking place using audio meters which work like speed cameras to detect excessive noise but, as yet, the technology is not considered accurate enough. In the meantime, the Society will continue to press for existing laws to be enforced by engaging with the local Police Commissioner.

Summer Party

Finally to end on a happy note, we at the Society hope as many as possible can attend our annual Garden Party in Little Orchard House on Sunday August 22. This will be the first opportunity in many months for members, or anyone interested in becoming a member, to meet up and discuss all the issues that are facing the town. The Garden Party poster features artwork by local artist, Louis Turpin. There will be the usual excellent scones, teas and coffees. And at the Garden Party we plan to present our 2021 Conservation Society Awards. Do come along.


Image Credits: RDC planning application .


  1. Interesting to read Rye Conservation Society are not happy with the new colour scheme of the refurbished George hotel, One only has to look along the high street, at the different coloured facades of the shop fronts and above, and wonder if they have objected to some of those in the past, lets hope Rother okay the colour, and we get our only 5 star hotel up and running at last, and hopefully much needed jobs, for our local population.

  2. I remember my father getting “told off” for repainting the window sill round the shop front the same colour it had been for years. A similar complaint occurred with the NatWest Gates in West St. Again just a refresh of existing colour.

  3. I love the way the Rye Historic Society pick and chose what they want to deal with. Their busy schedule obviously prevents them from answering emails?! Whilst being prissy about the colour of The George brickwork, where were they when Woolworths (now the library) were allowed to tear out the old windows and add ugly large panes of glass? And why not spend some time on getting the library to return the original windows? And where were they when Boots the chemist ( opposite The George ) added their large windows? And what are they doing about the proposed ugly parking meters that are going to be dotted around Rye? Instead of being picky with The George’s paintwork to make it “historically correct”, a much needed hotel and business, try looking at the bigger picture and get Rye “historically correct” as a whole.

  4. The new decorative scheme for The George appears to be based on extensive, rigorous and robust research, available on the Rother website. One thing is clear – The George has had many decorative schemes over time in a variety of colours that reflected our changing tastes – including earth tones of the kind now being adopted.

    I believe this latest decorative scheme, in which the individual buildings that make up the George are being painted a range of complementary earth tones, is to be welcomed. It clearly defines The George as a single entity, whilst reducing its apparent visual scale and expressing the grain of individual buildings along the High Street. In my view it is a huge improvement on the ‘blanket’ application of a single pale colour across the entire facades of multiple buildings, as was previously the case.

    The reinstatement of the painted sign on the facade is particularly welcome, it too having apparently been a variety of colours over time before being painted over completely. I agree that there are many townscape issues along the High Street [like the loss of this painted sign at some point] that warrant far greater scrutiny and attention, but not this apparently thoughtful and sympathetic restoration of The George as the latest iteration in its history.

  5. Do the society listen to public opinion or just their own opinions? I think it would be nice to see a bit of variety in the high street, if it’s being historically restored will they be going back to the yard gates that were in place up until a few years ago or the nice modern restaurant windows recently installed.
    Personally I like the windows but I’m sure there must be some purists who don’t.


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