Developers win planning row

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The developers of 53 Cinque Ports Street, Rye, can carry on – almost as before. That’s the decision of Rother’s planning committee which – more than a year after revised proposals were submitted – has finally reached its decision.

The original plan – for 10 homes and two shops – was met with wide approval. But the revised proposals were controversial and Rother’s planning approval was met with dismay last week by residents in Meryon Court, whose properties stand behind the development. They were angered by changes to the original plans (RR/2011/2629), submitted in December 2011, which were approved by Rother the following May. The alterations, submitted in January 2014, were to the roof height and pitch and to the design of rooflights. There was anger, too, at “unauthorised changes to a party wall between the two sites”.

Although Rother hadn’t give approval, work did begin on site and the developers applied for retrospective approval in December last year. This led to a protest from Meryon Court. David Brilliant, one of the residents, told us earlier this year: “The notice was issued on December 12, 2014, without the availability of all relevant drawings until the 11th day of the 21-day consultation period. It also coincided with three bank holidays.” Also opposed to the changes was Rye Conservation Society. Some of Rye’s councillors took the attitude that whatever they said wouldn’t matter and nothing would change. Cllr John Breeds, for example, said: “I think it is practically unheard of that anybody has been asked to knock anything down, so I don’t think it will matter much what we say . . .”

Commenting on the situation, Sue Bower, another Meryon Court resident, told us that concerns intensified as she watched the rear walls of the buildings going up: “Why were the walls so much higher and invasive of our space? We’d had several visits with the architects to ensure that this sort of impact on our properties would not occur.”

But that was nothing, she said, compared with the shock as the height of the roofs became apparent. “Far from a low pitch leading to a ridge over which we would be able to see some sky, we were confronted with a steep slope and ridge which was closer and much higher than anything described, or permitted, in the original plans.”

She added: “During the discussion amongst the councillors prior to the granting of permission [February 12], comment was made on the vast amount of correspondence this affair has generated and there were concerns over the excessive delays in all aspects of the project. The lack of clarity displayed over decision making and the way in which the builders had ploughed on with their new plans before receiving permission so to do was also raised.

“But, in spite of all that, they decided that as long as the rooflights facing Meryon Court were glazed with obscure glass and that drawn plans for a leaf guard over the gap between the new and old party-wall were submitted, passed and fulfilled, it was all OK. There were, in addition, a couple of provisos concerning rendering and cladding of walls in other parts of the development and that was that! Permission granted.”

Brilliant talked unhappily of the visit to residents’ homes by the planning committee on February 10. “This seemed to consist of walking into the garden and looking at the roofs opposite, with little interest in the impact from a home living perspective and apparently observing there was not a lot that could be done now that it was built.

“We, as residents, were prohibited from speaking to the committee members, irrespective of the completeness, accuracy or emphasis of the information being provided to them by planners. The planners had already submitted a formal report for full approval of the retrospective planning application before the site visit. That application was to approve the additional wall and roof height already built well in excess [40cm] of the committee’s original planning approval. All this despite clear evidence of inaccurate measurements and misleading drawings of the impact on neighbouring homes.”

A few days after the decision, Brilliant talked again: “One learns from experience that proposed plans cannot be taken at face value without considerable detailed checking of their accuracy. You cannot rely on the RDC planners to have done any meaningful due diligence . . .  The more the developer progresses the less likely that action will be taken by RDC to correct matters . . . At the planning committee meeting [February 12] the approval was given, unanimously, but discussion and reasoning for the decision is apparently not recorded. Presumably to limit any subsequent challenge on the facts . . . A star chamber would have been marginally more open.”

Photo: Tony Nunn

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