Sadly, I have to report that the appeal has been granted regarding the development at Spring Barn Farm (click here to see my report of June 2015). Most of the objections regarding the planning application were relating to the very large barn to be built out in the valley. All of the objections have been largely ignored by the inspector. Click here to Extracts from the inspector’s decision on Spring Barn Farm. You can see the full copy of the inspector’s report and decision by clicking the appeal reference as below:
Appeal Ref: APP/Y9507/W/15/3024061 [Location: Spring Barn Farm Park, Kingston Road, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 3ND. Decision by: David Cliff BA Hons, MSc (Urban Planning) MRTPI dated: 17 December 2015. Site visit made on 27 October 2015]
I had concerns about the original application and I have concerns about how the inspector came to his conclusions and allowed the appeal. This application was originally made in 2012 and most people thought that the application had been abandoned or withdrawn. It was quietly resurrected in 2014 and the application then proceeded. I went across to Midhurst and addressed the National Park Planning Committee meeting on 9 April 2015 and despite the officer report being in favour of allowing the application the members duly noted the objections made by nearby residents in Kingston and also my objections and refused the application. However it was an uphill struggle because prior to the meeting I had asked the officers of the National Park to delay the application and properly consult the parish of Kingston. Unfortunately they refused to do this saying that legally they only had to consult Lewes Town Council as Spring Barn Farm buildings were within the town boundary. I pleaded and said although this might be the case, based upon the Doomsday book parish boundaries drawn up 1000 years ago, the site of Spring Barn Farm clearly affects Kingston residents and the Cockshut valley leading up to Kingston. I got no joy.
An appeal was made against the decision and the Planning Inspectorate decided on a written appeal which was held in July of this year. After many months of delay by the Planning Inspector, during which time significant headway was made in local planning policy in the National Park and Lewes District plans reaffirming the importance of sustainability, landscape, noise and visual aspects of new development, the inspector made his decision largely putting aside these factors. It’s interesting to note that the inspector puts at the head of his document his qualification which includes an MSc in ‘urban planning.’ It is somewhat ironic to appoint a person specialising in urban planning to deal with a National Park landscape matter! Despite the fact that the inspector had all summer to go and see the site when it was at its busiest he didn’t actually visit until 27 October 2015. Obviously at that time of year it would be quiet.
The inspector, whilst recognising in one paragraph that the building is large and substantial he negates any concern by saying it will be screened by existing buildings! He also does not accept that this very large building would be in an isolated position. His main reason for this is that an existing agricultural barn can provide the necessary screening. What he doesn’t say is that the planning authority had no control over the building of the agricultural barn as it is outside planning control. The logic which this inspector applies to things seems to be that one more unsightly building won’t matter because it’s next to an existing one.
Sadly the inspector has ignored completely the concerns of residents about the noise that a much larger retail building will have on adding to the noise levels in this once quiet valley. He ignores the concerns that this new building could be used at night adding to the existing noise in the summertime from the campers on the nearby site. He does not set down any controls over the use of the building at night time and makes no suggestion about the current confused planning status of the car parking in the various areas around the site. He makes no comment about the importance of sustainability which is a cornerstone of the Government’s National Policy Planning Framework. Apart from a small concession where he mentions provision for cycles, it seems that he is quite happy that the much increased intensive use of this site will be fed by people visiting the site by car.
There are some surprises in the planning inspector’s report. He takes very little cognisance of the, almost completed, Lewes Local Plan (Joint Core Strategy). He also makes no reference to the published draft National Park Local Plan despite an appeal to ask him to take it into consideration.
I am in support of outdoor activities for children of all ages and when Spring Barn Farm started I thought that the idea was great. However over the last 10 or 12 years the associated building development has encroached into the rural landscape and urbanised the area. This further development will significantly add to that urbanisation. The decision goes against the grain of the main purposes of the National Park.
Sadly, the Lewes Town Council supported this application. None of the three district councillors representing the ward (Priory) of Lewes covering the area objected nor did any of the town councillors object to the development. Also the Case Officer who made recommendation to approve the original application had very little knowledge of the local area and chose to ignore the objections raised by the Friends of Lewes and South Downs Society and did not think it was important that the people of Kingston be consulted.
Local people must be ever vigilant and must campaign for greater transparency and wider consultation on planning applications irrespective of which parish they actually fall in. It is clear that local people must work very hard to put forward their views and provide detailed, well researched information and evidence. If that is not done the final decision lies with an inspector who has no knowledge of the local area and so the future landscape will be defined without proper consideration. It seems the inspector will only look at the evidence before him so if you don’t provide it he or she won’t take it into consideration. It’s very important to catch things early and try to make sure the officers in the planning department are fully aware of both concerns and material evidence if you are opposing the development. Once reports are written they are treated almost as evidence.
For my part I will do all I can to make sure we get the best possible planning decisions for our area.
District Councillor Vic Ient
PS These words echo my concerns about ill thought out planning & building design:
“Is then no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?” – William Wordsworth