BP’s revised planning application for a retail unit and filling station at the top of Udimore Road in Rye was unanimously rejected on Monday by Rye Town Council’s Planning Committee.
The new application will now go to the planning authority, Rother District Council (RDC), though BP has already appealed against Rother’s rejection of its earlier proposal.
BP has made a number of changes to reduce the visual impact of its proposal as the Udimore Road runs along a ridge between the rivers Brede and Tillingham towards the High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
However Rother’s consideration of BP’s plans may be influenced by repeated central government cuts in funding for local government. This has affected both the numbers of staff employed as well as running costs. RDC may well therefore be unwilling to refuse BP’s application if a possible appeal is going to be costly in time and money.
BP’s attitude however may be affected by Monday’s news that a Brenzett garage on the A259 (about 10 minutes drive from Rye) is seeking planning permission for 24-hour opening.
The Udimore site may seem closer than Brenzett, but delays at Rye’s level crossing and further delays caused by parked cars in the narrow B road, when added to the growing volume of traffic on the Udimore road (including very large agricultural vehicles in addition to commercial traffic), may make going out on the A259 to Brenzett seem to be an easier option.
BP’s proposal includes a large retail unit (as many filling stations now have) equivalent to a mini-supermarket, and this concerned councillors as much as the filling station.
With 24-hour opening, more traffic may be encouraged up Udimore Road between 10pm and 6am when local shops are normally closed, and any additional retail outlets were wanted closer to the town centre – not on the very edge – said councillors.
The drawing (top) shows the size of the site and the size of the retail unit (centre) as compared to the filling station (on left). The drawing below shows the length of the site along the Udimore Road.
Traffic along the road has increased greatly in recent years, partly as a result of the Valley Park housing, but also because satellite navigation devices steer drivers towards the B2089 as a useful shortcut from the A21 towards the Channel ports which avoids Hastings entirely.
Councillors and many local residents see that traffic as a growing problem but the highways authority does not. This is because the Department of Transport’s simplistic criteria has been “How many deaths?” – and no deaths means there is no problem!
Deputy Mayor Mike Boyd wanted to know why BP needed a site on a B-road, which was a difficult road already, and why they wanted a site no-one else wanted – and for which two exploratory proposals by the Valley Park developer had both been recently turned down.
Indeed there was a very clear gap between the Valley Park housing and BP’s proposed site (see plan above).
BP’s response, from their planning consultant who attended the planning meeting, was that there were environmental constraints (ie flood risks) elsewhere in Rye, but at least two councillors thought a company as large, and as experienced , as BP could cope with flood risks. Other companies did on Rye Harbour’s industrial estate.
Cllr Bernardine Fiddemore thought the site, with its retail unit, needed to be in or very near the town centre and the A259 was the natural place for it – and the Brenzett garage proposal is on the A259.
Anthony Kimber, vice chair of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group (NPSG), repeated the view that this was the right proposal, but in the wrong place.
However some would argue that we do not even need a new garage.
However he also said that Jempson’s recent significant supermarket extension in the town centre by the station (which has taken nearly a year to complete) meant the NPSG had to revisit their plan to look again at the “retail shortfall” which may now be less.
He added that the proposal added to the risk of drawing traffic up this B road and “it is not sustainable to draw people up this hill”.
BP’s consultant said the Neighbourhood Plan still had to pass an examiner and would have to comply with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and drew particular attention to paragraph 216 which said plans must comply with the NPPF.
However a tiny footnote in bold said: “Footnote 40: unless other material considerations apply” – and Rye’s town councillors thought there were a lot of considerations.
So did local residents, including a farmer from opposite the site, as well as Rye Conservation Society, and other councillors not on the Planning Committee. So “no” was the unanimous vote.
Drawings from BP’s application