Rother District Council’s planning department has singled out Playden as the first target — or one of the first — for a new kind of planning application designed to ease the way for developers to build on greenfield sites.
This is a highly controversial move and even more so in the midst of the pandemic, especially as the proposed location for the nine-home housing estate is the Shellfield property on the outskirts of Rye. The site witnessed a bitter two-year battle between local residents and developers that resulted in the Planning Inspectorate rejecting the application on appeal in June 2019.
If the fresh application is approved, Rother District Council’s planning supremos will have backed a project which local people unanimously oppose and which the government’s own executive agency threw out.
An informed source told me — but I have not confirmed — that this is the first time RDC has dealt with a planning application lodged under the new Permission in Principle (PIP) ‘consent route’, introduced in 2018. If it is the first occasion, one has to ask why this location in Playden village has been targeted — especially given the site’s recent planning history and the immense worry imposed on local residents between 2017 and 2019.
Destroying village’s unique identity
In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal my own position. As a local resident, I’m opposed to the development of an estate of large houses in Playden, on a green space that acts as a de facto strategic gap or ‘transition space’ between Playden and Rye. If development is allowed here, it will open the floodgates to wholesale building along the Playden escarpment, destroying the village’s unique identity as a Domesday-listed settlement and eradicating most of the semi-rural environment that residents value so highly.
In fact, Rye’s compact form is very much at risk of distending into an octopus-like shape with long tentacles of development extending along the Playden and Udimore escarpments as well perhaps as the A259 and Rye Harbour Road.
It’s well-known that planning authorities hold ‘pre-application’ discussions with developers and advise them on strategy. The content of these cosy chats is rarely revealed publicly, despite the fact that councils are elected and financed by residents and are meant to represent their interests. By allowing the Shellfield developer to lodge the latest application in the face of the Planning Inspectorate’s ruling, RDC is in effect nailing its colours to the developer’s wall.
Over the years I’ve come to see how planning departments, including RDC’s, treat residents as mere irritants and afford their views little weight in the planning process. Planning authorities now work so closely with developers, they have seemingly forgotten who they should be representing — the people.
Only following orders ?
Although they will of course argue that they are only following orders in conformity with the law, council planning departments often appear to have lost the ability to differentiate between ‘sensible’ planning applications and the speculative and opportunistic end of the spectrum.
I believe there to be some good people at RDC, but I fear an overbearing culture that pushes for development at the cost of the environment, and rides roughshod over residents’ views, has now taken hold. The Shellfield PIP proves this to be the case. The balance in planning has been lost. However, homes truly needed for Rye — the one- or two-bedroom units rightly identified by the Rye Neighbourhood Plan — should be built on suitable brownfield sites.
Of course, it remains a moot point whether unsustainable projects to construct large houses will prove viable in the post-coronavirus world. In the case of the current PIP planning application for Shellfield, RDC’s planning department has shown itself, not for the first time, to be prone to error.
Local community left unaware of plan
The council normally notifies residents of new planning applications via its weekly ‘My Alerts’ emails. However, although the Shellfield application was received by RDC as early as 25 February, the council failed to include it in My Alerts until 7 May, more than two months later. Several neighbours have told me they did not hear about the application via their RDC emails. Significantly, this mistake resulted in the local community being unaware of the new planning application.
The Shellfield owner’s agent’s claim, contained in a letter to the council, that “the site has not been artificially reduced in size to fall within the sub 1-hectare limit” of the PIP rules is laughable. We all know the size and scope of the previous application, and it’s clear that the current gambit has been deliberately configured to conform to the PIP regulations.
I have perused the PIP rules on the gov.uk website and I urge anyone interested to do the same. Rother residents will be seeing more of these applications on pink notices near them very soon — and they won’t be happy when they discover how little chance local people have to prevent grasping developers using these applications to build almost anywhere they wish.
In short, a PIP planning application separates the principle of granting planning permission from a building project’s technical details. As the first stage of the process is limited to assessing location, land use and amount of development, these elements are what any public comments to the planning authority need to focus on.
May 21 deadline for comments
If Rye News readers would like to comment on the Shellfield planning application (ref. RR/2020/339/PIP) they can do so by visiting the RDC website and follow the links. As the public comment period for PIPs has been cut from 21 days to only 14 days — once again disadvantaging the public — the comments deadline for this application is Thursday, 21 May.
My feeling is that successive national governments are largely to blame in creating the planning chaos enveloping the entire country and particularly the south of England. Councils have been underfunded and many now rely for revenue on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which springs from house building.
The Covid-19 outbreak is a tragedy for those people who lose their lives and for their families. However, if the crisis has taught us anything, it’s the importance of valuing our natural environment rather than exploiting every available green field, ancient wood or wild animal for profit. We are already seeing cleaner air, quieter streets and greater community spirit. People surely deserve to live in neighbourhoods with green spaces and access to natural environment.
Business and economic development can only be sustainable when they have negligible impact on the environment. Speculative house-building projects on greenfield sites should be seen for what they are — an easy way to a quick profit at the expense of people’s living environments.
I ask once again why historic Playden village is being aggressively targeted for attack by Rother’s first PIP planning application after the Planning Inspectorate rejected the original attempt? Could it be that someone is trying to ram home a point that public opposition to planning applications will not be tolerated? The call to rebalance the UK’s planning laws will soon be echoing in every political party from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.
Image Credits: David Worwood .