LETTER: Changes will not fix devastation

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Following the recent article in the Hastings Observer concerning the ecological tragedy on the West Hill Road site, shocked residents have researched the history of this site which revealed the following:

Outline planning permission was granted in 1989 for a four-storey apartment block with underground car parking. By the time the ‘reserved matters’ application was approved the proposal had morphed into an eleven-storey apartment block of 117 units with at least three storeys of underground car parking. The proposal was to re-grade the cliffs which are not totally in the ownership of the developer but belong in part to the householders that own the properties below the cliffs. The developer stated they would not proceed without the co-operation of each and every household that owned the adjacent cliffs. The site was abandoned in the early 1990s.

In 2004 the then owners of the site submitted an application for a Certificate of Lawful Use which was refused because there was no constructive evidence that the development had been commenced on the site in the statutory three year limit from the granting of the outline permission.

A further CLU application was submitted and subsequently approved. The developer used the demolishing of the two buildings which previously stood on the site as evidence that the planning permission had been implemented but that was incorrect as the buildings were demolished before the ‘reserved matters’ were approved and the planning conditions applicable to the site had been discharged. Other evidence offered was sparse and never proven with any realistic evidence of the date of these works.

Early in August 2016 local residents contacted the planning department to alert them that the developers were clearing the site without regard to the protected species, nesting birds and rare plants which were evident and inventoried, but the planning officer responded saying that the developer had permission from 1989 and there was nothing the planning department could do as there were no planning conditions imposed on the site in the 1980s to protect the wildlife.

There are very clear UK Government directives on planning matters which state the following: “The grant of a Certificate of Lawful Use applies only to the lawfulness of development carried out or proposed in accordance with Planning Legislation. It does not remove the need to comply properly with any other legal requirements such as consent required under the Building Regulations, the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 or the Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act 1990.”

Work on the site was halted in August and the Police Wildlife officer inspected the site. We have yet to hear the official report on the outcome of his visit.

A report from 2004 states the West Hill Road site forms part of the Caves Road Cliffs Local Wildlife site and is thus recognised as a site of Borough importance. This report acknowledges the high population of slow worms and other protected species on the site and closes by stating that the survey of reptiles, breeding birds and plants has identified that the proposed development site itself is of Borough importance and possibly of county importance.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the developer is now in discussion with his architect about amending the approved 1989 plans. Any amendments will need to be determined with regard to the recently ratified Local Plan and any other material considerations. The documentation in the Local Plan lists the site at West Hill Road as requiring an ECOP (Ecological Constraints and Opportunities Plan) before any development works could be considered on this site.

Sadly this will not compensate for the devastation caused when these developers recently cleared the site of all ecological worth. It is heartbreaking to hear a local resident declare that they do not hear bird song from this site now.

Patricia Stephenson

Whittlewood Close

St Leonards

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