Winchelsea Heritage, a conservation group in the ancient town, has sounded the alarm at the loss of letters written to Rother District Council’s planning department by Winchelsea residents. In a matter of months, Rother denies receiving at least two letters on local planning issues. The first was from a resident asking for advice on whether he needed planning permission to repair the roof on his listed cottage. The second was a letter from Winchelsea Heritage on a sensitive planning application in the conservation area by a local caravan park.
Winchelsea Heritage claims that the loss of the first letter caused considerable inconvenience and expense to the householder. It is concerned that the loss of the second could have been interpreted by the planning committee as lack of local opposition to an inappropriate development in a sensitive area. The group has written to Rother’s head of planning, Tim Hickling, to draw his attention to the problem, and has taken the precaution of posting its letter by recorded delivery.
A spokesman for Winchelsea Heritage said the group accepted that the loss of these two letters might have been coincidental, but it is concerned at the possibility that these could be the tip of an iceberg or, to paraphrase Lady Bracknell: “To lose one letter, Mr Hickling, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” He noted that the group was unaware of any letters being lost in the past and that the recent incidents come after a reorganisation that has weakened the planning department at Rother. The question was asked as to whether Rother, which has been encouraging the public to communicate by email as part of its cost-cutting programme, has failed to maintain an adequate post room.
Winchelsea Heritage also says Rother needs to be aware that many members of the public, particularly the elderly (who form a large part of the town’s population), do not have access to the internet and are in danger of being digitally excluded by their own council. The group also complains that community groups cannot send official letters online and has asked Rother to undertake an audit of its mailroom procedures to ensure that letters are handled securely.
Photo: © Julian P Guffogg, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence