Developer behind Hastings church hall conversion criticised for retrospective plans

St Mary'S Church Hall. Photo from original application.
St Mary'S Church Hall. Photo from original application.

Developers behind a long-running project to convert a former Hastings church hall into housing have been criticised by councillors.

An application seeking alterations to a scheme to convert the former St Mary’s Church Hall in Castle Hill Passage into three houses was rejected by Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee last night (Wednesday January 9).

St Mary's Church Hall. Photo from original application.

St Mary's Church Hall. Photo from original application.

During the meeting, committee members heard how the application was considered to be retrospective as some of the changes sought by developers had already begun on site.

Planning officers said they had also identified a number of other works at the site, which were not part of the plans as originally approved in 2012 or the application to alter them.

This was criticised by several committee members, including Ashdown councillor Mike Edwards (Con.) who said: “I think this committee should be sending out a very strong message to these people, who are holding this building to ransom almost.

“They are leaving it in a terrible state for an indeterminate period of time.

“I don’t know whether planning officers could, in their response to this application, make it clear that the owners are held responsible for the state of this building and that we all want it restored to a good order.”

The changes sought by the developers included a reconfiguration of the building’s windows, the addition of an extra bedroom to one of the properties and the erection of a timber boundary fence, rather than a hedgerow as originally agreed.

However, council officers said, site visits had revealed several other deviations from the plans as approved, including the absence of obscured glass intended to preserve the privacy of neighbouring residents.

Officers said they also found the building’s car park had been reconfigured from the agreed plans, leaving the spaces below the minimum size standards.  

Cllr Phil Scott (Lab. – Wishing Tree) said: “This is totally unacceptable. We have heard many, many reasons why it is totally unacceptable, including the overlooking; the issues around the car park [and] the hedgerow.

“I’m hoping that this will go away and if this does come back in any form, then developers will look at it very, very carefully.

“I think they’ve got a hole in their marble bag, this bunch of developers. I really hope they just go away and look at it in a sensible fashion.”

Criticism was also raised by Matthew Beaver (Con. – West St Leonards), who said: “It is about time developers learn that if they have got planning permission for something, then they should deal with that planning permission. Don’t change it.

“Retrospective planning permission gets on all our nerves, especially when it has gone ahead already.

“Whether you agreed with the original planning application back in 2012 or not, that was agreed and put forward.

“But now it just looks like the developer is thinking ‘I’m just going to do what I damn well like’.”

Before making a decision, the committee heard from ward councillor Judy Rogers and lead petitioner Gordon Russell, who both spoke on behalf of a group of neighbours who objected to the scheme.

The developer did not have a representative at the meeting.

The proposals were unanimously refused following a short discussion.