Resident groups can be an amazing force for good and oversight when it comes to planning issues. There are a number of controversial schemes being put forward by the council at the moment, notably the Old Bathing Pool site at West Marina, The Rec in Bulverythe and Harrow Lane playing fields potentially being sold off.
If we look back on a particularly contentious scheme in the past, the old college site on the Archery Ground in St Leonards, you can see how groups of residents can come together to make a difference.
Originally, the developer brought an application before the Council for an intensive housing development on the Archery Road site. It entailed felling numerous trees, building a densely overcrowded site and proposed a very unsympathetic design in a place that formed part of the Burton St Leonards conservation area.
A remarkable group of people came together to apply pressure and improve the planning application. Members of the group STAG (Save The Archery Ground) with support from the Burtons’ St Leonards Society and the Mount Residents Association put in countless hours of work to lobby the Council and the developer. Eventually, against all odds, the Council agreed with campaigners and the original scheme was refused.
The developer appealed the decision, and a public inquiry was held, where the plans were again rejected. More than 600 objections, along with four petitions, were lodged by members of the public against the developer’s proposals. Their actions eventually led to a much-improved planning application which was subsequently given permission.
Compare and contrast that with the ongoing situation at the Old Bathing Pool site in West Marina. For over two years the Council have been trying to close a deal with County Gate/Sunley to lease this land for development. The main lobbying group, SOBS (Save Our Bathing Site) put forward a petition with more than 3000 signatures which was rejected by the Council. Numerous attempts have been made by SOBS to have this site debated and scrutinised in public, but so far, they have been barred at every turn.
It seems the Council don’t want to engage with the residents in any meaningful way and it looks likely the land will be leased/sold to a developer without any consultation which is a shame.
Parts of the western side of the site are brownfield and there is an argument for using this space to develop much needed housing. However, the large green space on the seaside, that forms much of this site, is one of the last areas of green space we have next to the sea.
Surely the Council can work with the community to find a solution that works for everyone?