Planning row: answers at last

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The roof line that shocked resident Sue Bower as it backs on to her home. But architect Rob Pollard says the change in roof angle was "adjusted slightly"

The abiding confusion for residents at Meryon Court, Rye, who have protested about the development at 53 Cinque Ports Street, is who gave the go-ahead – and which plan do builders have authority to work with?

According to a letter [Jan 6 2015] submitted to Rother District Council by Rob Pollard, an architect with Jonathan Dunn Architects, Rye, the answers would appear to be: Rother and plans from 2014. His letter can be read in full on the Rother website.

Rye councillor Mike Eve has also said that this is his understanding of the position. He told Rye Town Council’s planning committee on January 12: “When the builders decided to start building on the site, the architects went to Rother and said, ‘Look, you haven’t dealt with this yet, can we please start building anyway?’ to which the answer was, in writing, yes.” More recently, according to David Brilliant, one of the Meryon Court residents, the councillor has repeated this assertion: “When I spoke with Mike Eve today [Jan 27] he was quite clear that Rob Pollard had stated to him that the RDC planners had written confirming that the developers could proceed with the proposed building plan.”

But these views are contradicted by Rother. A spokesman for the council said: “While planning officers may advise applicants as to whether a planning application might be acceptable in principle . . . the application to vary conditions on the development in Cinque Ports Street is still to be decided and a decision will be made by the planning committee on February 12.”

The spokesman added: “We would never write to a developer to tell them they could go ahead with building work which hadn’t received planning permission. The only approval – written or otherwise – we’ve given to the developer in this case is the approval through the grant of planning permission in 2012 – the application to vary the conditions of that approved application is still outstanding.”

Sam Souster, a Rother councillor for Rye, told us: “As a member of the RDC planning committee it would be wrong for me to comment on the rights or wrongs of this application as it would be considered predetermination.  I will, however, provide some information. There will be a site visit by members of the planning committee on February 10 and it will go before committee on February 12. The planning application in question is retrospective.”

There are two issues, Souster said: “Roof height – the height on the previous planning application has been raised by some 40cm, and there are objections from 1–4 Meryon Court. And the party wall: it is claimed that unauthorised work has been carried out without consent under the Party Wall Act and there are objections from 1–3 Meryon Court.”

At the heart of the dispute over the mixed development of shops and homes on the former garage site in Cinque Ports Street are changes to the original plans (RR/2011/2629) submitted in December 2011 and approved by Rother the following May. The changes, submitted in January 2014, were for alterations to the roof and to the design of rooflights.

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: “Surely they were closer to our party wall than was originally proposed? They were certainly considerably higher. How could inspection or maintenance of either wall be effected in such a narrow gap? And why were the walls so much higher and invasive of our space? We had had several visits with the architects to ensure that this sort of impact on our properties would not occur.”

The gap:
Mind the gap: it’s too narrow for effective maintenance, claims a resident in Meryon Court

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. If the true heights had been disclosed in those plans we, and I understand from various comments dropped, some RDC councillors would have objected.”

Bower was surprised that a site visit by the planning committee had not taken place sooner. “How come nothing, seemingly, was done by the authorities to scrutinise these activities? Were the developers setting forth on an apparent gamble? Did they hope no one would notice or complain about the construction of buildings using totally unauthorised plans? Did anyone give permission? Did anyone say ‘Yes’?”

The answer would appear to be no – and no again. The denial by the Rother spokesman was given additional weight by Richard Wilson, development manager in Rother’s strategy and planning department. Brilliant told us that he’d spoken to Wilson: “He told me that the increase in wall and roof pitch was not part of the delayed January 2014 application; it was only added by the agents when we objected to the unauthorised building height in early November 2014.”

Rother’s planning committee will be dealing with it next week. It is a saga that has attracted huge interest on the Rye News website. It was our most read story last month and the weekly mailing to our subscribers concerning the planning row was opened by more readers than any mailing before or since.

Photos: Tony Nunn