Uckfield business people challenged the Wealden Council cabinet member for planning and development last week about new planning regulations which they said were stifling economic growth in the town.
They blamed the council for the introduction of a rule banning new development within 7km of the Ashdown Forest, unless mitigation measures were part of the plans. They said enough wasn’t being done to get it reversed.
They were also angry about the instant implementation of the rule, taking everybody by surprise, when it could have been phased in.
Wealden Council cabinet member Cllr Roy Galley defended the council’s position at a meeting of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce, attended by 110 people, on Thursday evening, July 26, at Barnsgate Manor Vineyard.
He admitted that the council’s own arguments, against a higher number of new homes being built in the district, were used by a planning inspector to restrict business development as well.
Cllr Galley told how the council had successfully argued – using evidence about damage to the Ashdown Forest caused by nitrogen deposition from cars – for 9,500 new homes to be built in the district in the period to 2026/7 rather than 11,000 previously demanded in the South East Plan.
But, he added, he was “surprised” when the inspector applied those same arguments to restrict business development.
Cllr Galley said the council was currently working on mitigation measures that could be put in place to enable development. He hoped the problem was a temporary one.
He added the planning inspector was holding another hearing on September 6 where this issue, and others relating to the council’s core strategy for future planning development, would be covered.
After this the inspector would send the council a letter containing his final decisions.
Cllr Galley said: “We do have a problem. This problem stems from Wealden putting forward evidence to reduce the number of houses to be built in the district. It is regrettable this has affected businesses as well. We are looking to find some measures to work out how we can get sensible balance as the way forward.”
Cllr Galley said it was important that the inspector approved the strategy otherwise there would be “total chaos” in the planning system with every planning decision susceptible to challenge at judicial review.
Steven Neilly of Clearwater said he was most concerned about the way the ruling took instant effect.
One of his planning applications, for four new homes, had already been turned down because of the restrictions and that would prevent £½ million being spent in the local economy on materials and labour over the next 12 months. This during a recession and at a time of hardship.
Chris Lawson of commercial agents Lawson Commercial said Wealden should be fighting to overturn the ruling which would stifle business development.
Mr Lawson said: “You are supposed to represent the best interests of people in the area and you are just not doing it. You are hiding behind the inspector and should be trying to find a way to solve this problem.”
Cllr Galley assured him: “We are trying to find a way to solve it.”
Chamber president David Marshall, senior partner at Dawson Hart, told members about the results of an East Sussex County Council consultation on the future of roads in Uckfield.
A majority of people favoured Option A, Smarter Choices, to help people walk, cycle and use buses in the town.
Also popular was Option B to build a car park near the railway station, something the Chamber has been campaigning about for some time.
Mr Marshall said options which could involve building a gyratory system or flyover were not welcome. “We do want the town to welcome people to shop and do their business here. Parking is the key and we don’t want pedestrians to be put off by the traffic.”
Forty-nine businesses have entered the Uckfield Business Awards and 323 nominations have been received from members of the public, it was reported at the Chamber meeting.
Neil Edwards, one of the organisers, said he was hoping for more entries in the tradesperson of the year, innovation and environmentally sustainable categories.
Tickets for the awards ceremony, which will take place at the East Sussex National Hotel on November 1 are now on sale at £39.50 each.
All weather pitch
Help is being sought to raise the final £40,000 needed to build an all weather sports pitch in Uckfield.
Bob Lake told Chamber members that £595,000 had already been raised, including £135,000 from Uckfield Town Council, £100,000 from Uckfield Community Technology College, £90,000 from Freedom Leisure.
It is hoped that a grant of £230,000 will be confirmed by the Football Foundation in August.
Construction is due to start in October and be completed in December with the pitch ready for use in January 2013.
Gordon Buckland vice-chairman of the Uckfield Grasshoppers Junior Football Club said there were plans to run a raffle and sell pitch squares.
Mr Marshall announced that five new members have joined Uckfield Chamber of Commerce.
They include Utility Warehouse, Hartfield; Fross Wedding Collections, Uckfield; McCrudden Training, Eastbourne; Black Rok Design, Uckfield, and J.D. Courtney, East Hoathly.
Chamber secretary Ian Blackaller greeted 11 guests, all of whom were potential new members.
If anybody would like to join the Chamber please contact Ian on 01825 722607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Edmunds of Sarah Edmunds Legal gave a talk about the importance of solicitors in the business world.
Barnsgate Manor Vineyard
The manager of Barnsgate Manor Vineyard, Darren Butcher, welcomed Chamber members before a barbecue was served.
He said Barnsgate was a popular venue for weddings, parties and celebrations and conferences.
The next meeting of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce is due to take place on September 25 at Hendall Manor Barns, Herons Ghyll.