Plans to turn courtyard shops at Trading Boundaries, Sheffield Park, into bed and breakfast units have been approved by Wealden Council.
The approval is conditional on Natural England accepting that contributions towards Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Strategy (SAMMS) would be enough to mitigate the effects of the development attracting more footfall to the Ashdown Forest.
Natural England, which provides scientific advice to the Secretary of State, had indicated its preference for a contribution towards Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) as well as SAMMS, but Wealden planning officers said the SAMMS contribution should be sufficient.
Members of the council’s planning committee, north, welcomed the planning application at a meeting earlier this month.
They picked up on a Natural England concern about dogs being brought to the Ashdown Forest and Cllr Susan Stedman asked whether dog owners could be discouraged from bringing their pets with them to the B&B.
Cllr Stedman said: “This seems to be a really good scheme that would tidy up this area and these buildings.”
Cllr Helen Firth said she thought the B&B proposal was a sensible one. Trading Boundaries was close to the Bluebell Railway and it did encourage tourists.
Cllr Peter Roundell said using the buildings for B&B would entail far fewer journeys across the forest than using them as retail units.
He couldn’t understand Natural England’s concerns, and asked whether the issue was the journeys or the dog walking.
The committee chair, Cllr Johanna Howell, also asked whether Natural England was objecting to dog walking or general walking.
Mr Moss said it was dogs, in particular, and dog walkers, that had the greater recreational impact on the forest.
Dogs running free affected the protection of ground-nesting birds, such as the Nightjar and Dartford Warbler, at certain times of year.
But, he added, more intensive human activity in general could also be an issue.
Mr Moss said it would be possible for Trading Boundaries to promote alternative walking venues and attractions, such as Harrisons Rocks near Groombridge), Broadwater Forest, and ‘a riverside walk at Uckfield’.
Councillors agreed to approve the planning application while being prepared to reopen the SANGS and SAMMS discussion if necessary.
Read more about the planning application in another Uckfield News story here: Trading Boundaries courtyard shops could be turned into B&B rooms.