Eleven new volunteers came forward at the weekend to help prepare an Uckfield Neighbourhood Plan which will guide town development into the future.
They join ten people already working on the document which will have legal standing when Wealden Council considers planning applications.
But first there will be further consultation, negotiation, independent examination of policies by a planning expert and a town referendum where a majority of those taking part must be in favour of the plan.
Work began in earnest on Saturday, at the Civic Centre, as residents were asked to share their thoughts on housing, transport, retail and industry, social infrastructure, places for nature, and environment and sustainability.
About 180 people attended during the course of the event and every idea contributed was mapped for consideration by the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.
Residents were told the plan must be positive and sustainable and could not be used to stop development. It had to conform to existing national and local planning strategies.
The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, which was set up by the town council, is looking beyond current development plans – regeneration of the town centre and building of 1,000 homes at Ridgewood – towards what people imagine the town to be like in ten to 15 years time.
Richard Judge, who has lived in Uckfield for 18 years and became chairman of the steering group in September, opened the meeting saying it was set up by the town council in April 2013. The first job tackled was to set the boundaries of the plan.
Town councillor Jeremy Hallett asked why Bird-in-Eye wasn’t included. He feared developers would try again to build there.
Richard said Neighbourhood Plans normally followed town boundaries and Bird-in-Eye was a green site within Framfield.
He added plans to build on land there had been refused twice, developers lost an appeal and there was no scope under current Wealden Council planning strategy to build there.
Constraint on growth
Alex Munro, of Maroon Planning, who is advising the Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group told the meeting he was also working with Maresfield who were further on with their plan than Uckfield.
There was a common constraint on growth in both areas, he said. That was the need to preserve the ecology of Ashdown Forest.
He asked those attending the meeting to share any “gripes” they had about Uckfield, what they would like to see less of, or more of.
He stressed that the Neighbourhood Plan could only cover real planning matters, issues that would be taken into account when a planning application was determined. Policies could not deal with issues such as the maintenance of open space and street lighting.
Alex told townspeople: “I strongly advise you to keep tabs on the plan. If you are invited to contribute make sure your views are heard.”
He urged people, on completion of the plan, to engage with the town council master plan process and to respond to planning applications.
“The Neighbourhood Plan will set up a framework but it will be up to you guys and the town council and anybody interested in Uckfield to be constantly monitoring what is going on and to make sure your document is being used properly.”
He said that because of the time it would take to build the plan it might not be possible to influence current planning issues such as the Ridgewood 1,000 homes development and the town centre regeneration project.
He advised that people concerned about the Ridgewood development make their views known through the planning application process. He also said people should take part in consultations as Wealden reviewed its development strategies.
A question was asked about whether the results of the Neighbourhood Plan referendum would be binding when it was known that the results of a soon-to-be held parking referendum would not be.
Alex said a Neighbourhood Plan referendum was required by law. The result would be legally binding whether there was a simple majority in favour or against. If the result went in favour then the Neighbourhood Plan would be a legal document.
He said the parking referendum was “a slightly different, more localised process”.
Uckfield town councillor Jim Molesworth-Edwards asked whether the Neighbourhood Plan might be able to protect Selby Meadow which had been developed as a community garden but which the town council had planning permission to build on.
Richard Judge said there was scope within the Neighbourhood Plan structure to provide community green space but it was difficult with this piece of land because it already had planning permission on it and was already included in Wealden Council housing numbers.
There was a question about the extent to which the allocation of SANGS (Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space) for the Ridgewood 1,000 homes might enable more homes to be built elsewhere. The fear was that 180 homes would be built at Mallard Drive rather than the 113 currently approved.
Richard said the allocation of SANGS was larger than required to mitigate the 1,000 homes but Wealden policy at the moment was that there should be no more development than was already planned and so it was unlikely that more homes than approved could be built at Mallard Drive.
In answer to another query about whether the Neighbourhood Plan could cover detail such as the size of estate garages Alex Munro said issues such as this had been included in Neighbourhood Plans elsewhere.
The concern was that garages were still being built to 1960s standards to accommodate vehicles the size of Ford Anglias but today’s cars wouldn’t fit in them and so were parked on estate roads. An example given was the Taylor Wimpey estate at Buxted.
Alex said that if a policy was to be produced to overcome issues such as this there would be a requirement to investigate further and make sure the policy was evidence-led.
In the meantime if people felt strongly about the size of garages to be built at Ridgewood, it would be possible, as part of the planning application process, to take photographs to illustrate the problem of cars blocking highways elsewhere and say that this was an issue you didn’t want to see any more.
More Uckfield News pictures from the Neighbourhood Plan meeting can be seen below. Click on one to enlarge it and scroll through them all.