Proposed development is ‘ill-conceived’

You recently reported on the planning application by Amicus for 60 extra-care and other homes to be built within the South Saxons’ Wetlands wildlife site and on the West St Leonards Community Centre.

The homes would be built in partnership with East Sussex County Council on ESCC land. The new extra-care homes are needed and should be welcomed in principle. However, the proposed siting and pretty much everything else about the application is ill-conceived.

There are agreed to be anthrax pits under the land. The applicant’s own consultant advises in a report on the anthrax that ‘the depth and extent of investigation was limited and therefore the exact location of the burials, which are now expected to be at potentially four-metre depth, could not be determined’. The consultant recommends further exploration of the site history and more detailed physical investigations.

There are also reports of methane bubbling up. The applicant’s consultant advises following tests that ‘the limits for methane... have been exceeded across the site... further ground gas monitoring at the site will be necessary to confirm the ground gas regime’.

Hastings’ only Air Quality Management Area is further west along Bexhill Road where there have been past concerns about rising methane levels. Twenty speculative town houses are proposed on the Bexhill Road frontage and these may trap traffic fumes which currently disperse up Filsham Valley. No tests nor modelling have been carried out to see what the risks might be from air pollution.

The county archaeologist advises that he could ‘be looking for some evaluation in the form of geophysical survey and trial trenching (as the site has high potential for archaeological interest)’. This work has not yet been carried out. Given its duty to protect and enhance the county’s archaeological heritage can the county council be content that important traces of West St Leonards’ past may be put at risk?

The land is known to be liable to an increasing flood risk, for example where water backs up under Bexhill Road from The Haven.

West St Leonards is acknowledged by the county and borough councils to be an area which is under-provided with community recreational facilities. Most of the South Saxons’ playing field, which has been a valued and intensively used community facility for more than 150 years, would be built over. Furthermore, 20 speculative townhouses are proposed on the demolished remains of the West St Leonards Community Centre. The existing hall, club room, bar, at least 15 parking spaces and other outside open space would be lost and inadequately ‘replaced’ by two small lightly partitioned-off spaces next to an extra-care residents’ lounge in the new development.

Two vehicle accesses would enter Filsham Road, which is both busy and fast. Little or no detail is given in the planning application of the access, sightlines and so on, nor of any traffic calming measures that will be needed nor how the overspill parking from the new community facilities would be handled.

The three-storey town houses on the Bexhill Road frontage would block the important view of St Ethelburga’s Church from Bexhill Road and views up the valley. The extra care homes in the centre of the site would have extensive flat roofs which, especially when viewed from above from Filsham and Edinburgh Roads, will appear incongruous and intrusive in the middle of the valley floor.

Little if any analysis has been made of the likely increased strains on local schools and health facilities which are already under stress. In the absence of any relevant information how can the county council be confident that neighbouring schools and surgeries can accommodate the new demands?

The county council clearly needs to find extra care housing in the borough. However, this responsibility should not be and does not need to be at the expense of the county council’s many other duties. The county owns other land in the borough. Very nearby, for example, is the former Grove School site which could be partly developed for the extra care homes.

The borough council, which must decide the planning application, may feel under pressure to permit the development in order to meet its housing supply targets and tempted to push to one side the above matters.

I am aware that concern is felt across party political lines about these proposals. I hope that the county council will rethink. And I trust that Hastings’ planning committee will exercise great caution before considering approval of such deeply flawed proposals.

Chris Lewcock

Chairman

Hastings Urban Design Group