A contentious plan to build a two-storey “garage-studio” in an historic part of Military Road is inviting further controversy, after a radically different design was lodged on Rother DC’s website when the applicant’s second attempt to win planning approval ran into trouble.
Local residents were surprised to see three digitally-altered images appear on RDC’s planning website in early April, showing a changed design with black wooden cladding and large windows. Several people expressed concern at the lack of early consultation and suggested the latest building proposal is larger than before and even more out-of-keeping with the historic Rye Conservation Area in which the site lies.
On 26 April, two historic photographs were downloaded to the website — again with no details of who submitted them — but in what seems like an attempt to persuade residents that the garage-studio is justified simply because buildings previously occupied the constricted space just south of the Globe Inn, squeezed between busy Rye Hill and Military Road.
RDC later admitted in response to a resident’s enquiry that “improvements to the scheme were being negotiated” along with the applicant and conservation officer. The Council said the images possibly formed part of these negotiations, but that “no formal amendments have been submitted, which is why there has been no re-consultation [with residents] or update via Rother Alerts”.
Site inside Conservation Area
This leads one to conclude that the applicant is simply floating his changed design plans in a bid to gauge the public’s response.
The garage-studio plan initially failed to gain approval in January 2020, under another planning application, because of “unsympathetic form and design” and because the tiny site south of the Globe Inn sits inside Rye Conservation Area. A total of 31 local people objected to the original application and 37 signed a petition against the controversial project, which is the scheme of a resident who lives in Landgate, several hundred metres from the site.
The case officer responsible for the current planning application departed Rother District Council suddenly in January, adding to the administrative difficulties which have already seen the application stretch beyond a year.
A major stumbling block involves the applicant’s insistence on an upper floor, ostensibly to accommodate a garden-design studio for his wife. In 2019, RDC asked the agent to agree that the structure should be described as “a two-storey building comprising a garage with studio flat above”. This, and the planning history, has led to assertions that the ultimate aim is to convert the property into a dwelling for sale or for use as a holiday let.
Residents should be kept informed
The site’s size has already forced the proposed building into an awkward sideways position that risks obstructing the much-valued view from the top of Military Road to the Globe Inn.
Interestingly, in June last year Rye Conservation Society described the current application as an “overtly domestic design”, suggesting that the scale of the building did not lend itself to the approach. Two planning applications to extend the neighbouring Globe Inn were recently rejected.
Rye News readers may note that the applicant, or his agent, appear to have digitally manipulated the new images to remove most of the vehicles habitually parked on the west side of Military Road. The other image, a real one, shows the true car parking situation in Military Road at 7.15am on a Thursday. Would anyone be able to tell which image is real, and which has been digitally altered?
Certainly, a general issue worrying residents is that neighbours and local people feel left “out of the loop” when it’s revealed their own district council has been working closely with property developers to shape a project for planning approval, particularly when most affected residents oppose the project. In the case of the garage-studio, RDC has promised to give people another say.
Greater transparency is needed with planning
However, there is inevitably a feeling that residents’ views are just an inconvenience to the planning authority. If true democracy and transparency in planning were a reality, the Council would surely update local people about discussions with developers on a regular basis.
Planning decisions affect people’s lives in a profound way. My view is that the public deserves fairer treatment, more timely and better consultation and far greater transparency from our councils in planning matters. Unlabelled documents, digitally altered images and misleading statements submitted by developers, or documents lodged in an irregular fashion, should be flagged up as such, rather than tolerated.
Householders who flaunt planning conditions should be properly penalised, not scolded and let off. Development should only be supported where it is appropriate for the locality — taking into account an area’s character, conservation status and allocating appropriate weight to residents’ views in the planning process.
Readers wishing to lodge comments on planning application RR/2020/493/P can go online to www.rother.gov.uk and follow the links to ‘Search Planning Applications’, where they can register their comments using the above-mentioned reference number. At this stage it’s unclear whether the latest altered design will force RDC to order another planning application, although this would surely be inevitable if the applicant formalises his amendments.
In the interests of transparency, please note the author of this article is a local resident with no political affiliations.
Image Credits: Planning application at rother.gov.uk , David Worwood .