April Cottage, Buxted, near Uckfield

April Cottage, Buxted, appeal dismissed

A planning inspector has ruled April Cottage, Buxted, cannot be converted back to a private home.

The inspector backed Wealden District Council’s refusal of planning permission for the property which faces the High Street. It was the village’s doctors’ surgery.

When the doctors moved to the new medical centre, the owner sought to have the premises re-designated as a private home.

The district council refused planning permission because of the likely effect it would have on the Ashdown Forest, a special area of protection.

A 7km cordon around the Forest limits development as part of the council’s core planning policy.

New developments must mitigate their effect on the Forest by providing other recreational areas to draw people away from the area.

No areas – known as SANGS (suitable alternative natural green spaces) have so far been designated.

Wealden council is working to ensure these green spaces are provided but the planning inspector, in reaching his decision, said the current situation was an “unsatisfactory state of affairs”. It was, he said, “becoming increasingly urgent and frustrating”.

Planning applications, such as April Cottage, are not looked at in isolation but the cumulative effect of such developments is considered when making such decisions.

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In the report below we examine in more detail some of the key issues which were weighed by the planning inspector as he came to his decision

The main issue was whether the proposed development, on its own and in combination with other development, would cause harm to the Ashdown Forest, and particularly to land within it designated as a SAC (special areas of conservation) and a SPA (special protection area); and, if so, the source(s) and degree of that harm and the extent to which it might be mitigated.

These environmental designations have happened since April Cottage was last used as a home in 1990.

The inspector appointed by the Planning Inspecrorate, Richard Hollox, said any adverse effect on the Forest from bringing April Cottage back to residential use was likely to be “negligible”.

Recreational pressures

He said: “Any such effect, however, must be taken into account along with the recreational pressures arising from other developments.

“The core strategy proposes an annual delivery of 450 dwellings during the plan period up to 2027 with, for example, 1,000 and 300 additional dwellings proposed at Uckfield and Crowborough respectively.

“The council’s two-fold approach is to ensure suitable mitigation for all residential development, be it for one dwelling or substantially more, by way of both SANGS (suitable alternative natural green spaces) and measures for access management.

Natural England

“The sensitivity and international importance of Ashdown Forest at the top of the hierarchy of designations is such that the approach should be supported.”

Natural England advised that visitor numbers do affect bird populations – the higher number of recreational use of land such as the Forest, the lower the number of birds.

Natural England added that the nature of the impact was cumulative.

It said: “We are not aware of any evidence to suggest that further visitor pressure could be accommodated without impact on the SPA bird populations, nor that there is a particular ‘tipping point’ below which no effect is likely and above which visitor numbers would damage the site.

“Further, it is likely that this proposal would act in combination with other development because it is the frequency and extent of the disturbance that is important to the SPA and this is likely to be influenced by the quantity of housing in the locality.

Total amount of disturbance

“Whilst alone the effect of a single dwelling may be almost negligible, it is capable of adding to the total amount of disturbance.”

The Inspector said he had great sympathy with the owner of April Cottage, Dr Clarissa Fabre.

“She has to pay council tax and insure and maintain the property, but derives no real benefit from it. She has done, or promised, everything she can in resolving the problems of getting April Cottage back into residential use.

“There is no firm date when the end of this unsatisfactory state of affairs can be guaranteed, Mr Hollox said.

Forest Conservators

When the Wealden District Council Core Strategy was finally approved, the planning inspector in charge of that inquiry emphasised the importance of the council in pushing forward the provision of SANGS and on-site management of the Forest as soon as possible.

Mr Hollox said the council had been working “diligently with landowners, the Forest Conservators, Nautral England and others to get mitigation measures in place as soon as possible.

Mr Hollox said: “There is no reason to doubt the council’s commitment. As it says, delays can occur when there is reliance upon third parties.

“Nevertheless, the fact remains that the matter is becoming increasingly urgent and frustrating. The longer it takes to have these measures in place, the greater may be the weight accorded to the need to promote otherwise acceptable development, such as the appeal proposal.”

‘Delay unreasonable’

Dr Fabre in her appeal said the passage of time had made the delay in having mitigation measures in place unreasonable

The inspector, Mr Hollox, said a judgement had to be made on competing objectives.

One was the advantages of bringing back into residential use a building as a family home and the other the “possible but uncertain effect of cumulatively more visitors, with or without pets, on the Forest”.

Bringing April Cottage back to residential use

He concluded that more weight should be accorded to the status of the Forest and the possibility of combined harm being caused to it than to the advantages of bringing April Cottage back to residential use.

The proposal would be likely to cause more harm to the Forest and that harm could not at present be adequately mitigated.

Copying of any material published on this website is prohibited by law. If you wish to re-use any words, photographs or any material, you will need prior permission in writing. For details of how to do that click here

See also:

Plan that could change the face of Uckfield

Noah’s Ark for sale – the Buxted one

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