From: Robert Sorrenti, St Vincents Road, St Leonards
At the Cabinet meeting last Monday, the leader of the council brushed aside concerns from hundreds of petitioners about the proposals for development of the old bathing pool site, stating that the site had been earmarked for housing under the Local Plan, on which the council had extensively consulted prior to its adoption in 2012.
As far as he was concerned, that was a mandate to proceed as the council intended.
Unlike its predecessor which ring-fenced the site for “mixed use development based on water and beach related commercial tourism and leisure facilities”, the current Local Plan does not specifically refer to the old bathing pool site at all.
So in that respect Cllr Chowney is correct in that the plan offers no special protection for the site.
However, as a map confirms, the site falls within a region of West St Leonards described rather imaginatively as the “western area”. While the plan says the western area is to be targeted for employment and housing development it also states that green spaces within the western area will be “enhanced and protected”.
So what the council is here promising to the community is that the old bathing pool site, this now green space, will not be desecrated. Precise details of the agreement between the Cabinet and the developer were withheld at the meeting, but from what we know the site is to be sold to the developers on a long lease of 250 years duration, at a rent of £100,000pa with the developer being given the right to break the lease after five years. It is said this arrangement will allow the developer the time to make all necessary surveys and investigations to see what scheme, if any, is feasible for the site that will allow up to 152 housing units to be built on it.
Cllr Chowney said that despite the sell-off the council would retain control, because whatever scheme the developer came up with would have to go through the planning process and that it would be rejected if the council were to deem it unsuitable.
Something sounds odd about this. Why would any developer want to buy an expensive lease of this site if it doesn’t have any assurances about what it can do with it?
The site without planning permission is basically worthless as a commercial proposition, so why pay such a high rent just for the privilege of exploring its possibilities? Realistically what this agreement does is create an expectation on the part of the developer that any subsequent planning application will be treated sympathetically, and at least a moral if not legal obligation on the part of the council that this will be the case.
It’s up to the council now to ensure no harmful development takes place, by refusing planning permission if necessary and defending its position if the developer goes to appeal. Unfortunately, the council has a track record of refusing to fight appeals because of the costs implications of losing. It needs to be braver than it has shown in the past. And if ultimately this developer does fall away perhaps the council will then finally take the regeneration of this area into its own hands.
If it can find the money to make an investment in the Peugeot site on Bexhill Road why can’t it find the money to transform the site into what everyone in the town would want – a leisure destination worthy of the name?