With the elections out of the way the District Council has got down to business. For many of us new councillors, we are still going through a period of training and attending familiarisation meetings so that we are equipped to sit on the various committees – but more of that later.
Planning: My first committee meeting (planning) was held last week and this was a bit of a baptism by fire, – the meeting lasted over four hours and dealt with just six applications. None of these were in the ward which I serve (Kingston, Falmer and the villages on the western bank of the Ouse valley). Three of the applications were concerned with housing and all of them contain detailed issues to judge. One application was concerned with the development of a business which would employ more people in the area but would result in the cutting down of some ancient woodland adjacent to an existing large industrial area. Another application was concerned with the redesign of a large house in Lewes, employing an ultramodern design which made it stand out from the red brick classic Edwardian style houses in that street. One of the main difficulties in all of this is that you only get one recommendation from the officers and if you wish to oppose their views you have to do come up with your own words at the time you put the motion. This might have to stand the test of examination in a public enquiry. Bearing in mind the councillors are all amateurs, I believe this is unfair. Help is needed with legal phrasing of the member’s motion.
The current planning system is also complicated by the fact that, although the Lewes District Core Strategies Local Plan has been examined by an inspector but there is still a way to go before it becomes a legal document. Consequently we are still relying upon the old local plan approved in 2007. Since then there has been a significant number of changes in the planning system, including the creation of a National Park and the government’s introduction of the most unhelpful top-down national government planning framework (NPPF). In 2010, the government declared that previous legislation on planning will be completely replaced by a national planning policy framework. Following legislation this came into full force in 2012. Many people have criticised this legislation as it focused too heavily on the provision of housing and commercial development. Anyway, it’s something we have to live with now. Set against this is the legislation which governs planning in the National Park where there are two core principles (set down in 1949), plus a modification brought in in 2010, which says:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the Public
National Parks also have the duty to: Seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Parks.
All of the villages in this ward are within the National Park, so we should have the highest level of planning protection in the country, but I recommend you keep a close watch on watch on planning applications and make sure your views known as officer recommendations don’t always seem to line up with the aims and objects of the National Park.
There are even more complications in that the South Downs National Park is in the process of developing their own plan which should be finally approved in 2017! This plan should take account of any existing village plans and neighbourhood plans. There are some existing village plans and conservation area appraisals and hopefully the National Park plan will take account of these. There are no neighbourhood plans currently being prepared for our villages. However, I think it would be good to update village plans.
Officer Decision on Planning Applications: Before attending my first planning meeting I was briefed by senior officers at the District Council and I was surprised to find that the decision as to whether a planning application is decided by officers or the members of the Council is a decision made by the planning case officer. If a District Council member wants a particular planning application heard by the committee they have to request it to be ‘called in’ within 2 weeks of its submission. A bit of a tight timescale! I don’t know what the figure is, but it seems to be well over 60% of applications are decided by officers and not the members. There is logic to this but I am concerned about the process as to whether it is to be an officer decision or member’s decision.
Piddinghoe: As district councillor I attended my first formal meeting of the parish council at Piddinghoe on the 19th May. The subject of the difficulties of agreeing a route for the Egrets Way through the village came up and myself and the county councillor for the area, Carla Butler and I offered to assist with a ‘round table’ workshop style discussion between the Piddinghoe Parish Council and the Egrets Way group (OVCN). I do hope that some common ground can be found.
The parishes in the Ouse Valley get-together a few times a year in order to discuss common issues. There group is called Parishes of the Lower Ouse (POLO). Earlier this week I attended my first POLO meeting and it was good to meet representatives from many areas of the Ouse Valley, including Kingston Road and Cranedown Residents’ Association, Swanborough residents, Iford, Rodmell, Southease, Piddinghoe, South Heighton parishes and Newhaven Town Council. Our county councillor, Carla Butler, was also present as was Neville Harrison who is a National Park member as well as being the Chair of Southease Parish. This was a very useful meeting as it enabled representatives to discuss common issues. Here is my summary: (There are minutes available from the Rodmell Parish Clerk)
Cuts to the 123 bus service: Rosemary Jeffrey, who is the is the lead councillor on Transport & Highways on Kingston Parish Council reported to the group that her perception was that passenger numbers had reduced & that the most likely cause was the reduced service & problems with punctuality. She reported Kingston Parish Council had resolved that she set up a small working party to look at the issue in greater detail & POLO representatives should be invited to join her. Myself & Carla Butler agreed to take part. It was agreed that other individuals from the communities most affected should register their interest by emailing Rosemary direct on: firstname.lastname@example.org
C7 Road / Safety /Speeding: I outlined that from my canvassing in the ward during the election, it was clear this issue was of paramount importance to all the parishes. In addition to the excellent individual initiatives in the past I proposed a small group be formed looking into options going forward including meeting with ESCC Highways etc. This suggestion was supported by all present & it was agreed everyone would report back to their own Parish Council /Parish Meeting to find a representative to join this working group.
Broadband: I reported that also through canvassing it was very clear that this remained a very hot issue particularly for Rodmell although it was acknowledged there were other communities affected by slow connections. I continue to press the ‘GoSussex’ team of ESCC as more needs to be done to get results from ESCC & BT. Carla Butler offered to set up another meeting with the team at East Sussex & it was agreed this would be helpful. Rodmell Parish Council are in the process of setting up a meeting with me & Carla with all Rodmell Councillors & their broadband experts to address this issue.
Cockshut Lane: The planning application for the formal opening up of this track has still to go to committee though technically it could be an ‘officer decision’ as it was not ‘called in by any of the 3 district councillors in whose area the lane is, (Priory ward of Lewes). Hopefully it will come to committee as over 140 peole have lodged objections. As I write this I see there is still time to object – the planning application number is: SDNP/15/00575/CND Go to: http://planningpublicaccess.southdowns.gov.uk/online-applications/ to submit your objection on line. This application has come at a bad time for this trackway as it should be being designated a bridleway (No 52) as agreed in principle between the campaigners, (including Kingston Road and Cranedown Residents’ Association) and the ESCC Rights of Way Dept. Wendy Brewer explained that the formal establishment of bridleway 52 only requires signatures from LDC & the Department from Transport before it comes into effect.
South Downs National Park: In a discussion about the National Park, Judith Bradbury asked if the Park would support the creation of a code of conduct for ‘shoots’, similar to the one developed by Exmoor National Park. See: http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/communities/information-for-farmers-and-land-managers
A general discussion followed and it was acknowledged the Park was disadvantaged by being new & hence having to work on drawing up its own local plan which is preoccupying officers. Neville Harrison said that one way would be for local communities to comment on the Local Plan when it comes out for review in the autumn and suggest the creation of supplementary guidance on shooting then. Another possibility would be to arrange to make a statement at one of the National Park’s public meetings where members of the public can attend and speak. Finally Neville outlined that the Authority was currently seeking nominations from Parishes for two places available in East Sussex.
Neighbourhood Plans / Village Plans / Clustering: Neville Harrison explained the National Park remained keen for communities to produce plans & that these need not necessarily be full Neighbourhood Plans – such documents would still be considered very seriously by the authority. He said it was feasible to have ‘single issue’ plans such as proposals dealing with commercial farm buildings & the C7.
Planning Updates: I mentioned increased number of planning applications going through the system for agricultural barns within the valley. I urged everyone to keep a look out for new applications as the development of such buildings are changing our countryside landscape.
Chairmanship of POLO: Kenneth Hamer kindly agreed to fulfil this role for the next year. A vote of thanks was extended to Wendy Brewer for fulfilling the role so ably for the last two years.