COUNCILLOR Daniel implies in your letters page of November 29 that if planning approval had been granted in 2008 for 22 flats on the Undercliff site then the problems left from the half-implemented 1966 planning permission would have been resolved.
However, if he had had his way a deeply unsatisfactory scheme would have been built on the site. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the problematic eyesore that is there now but it would still have been a problematic eyesore.
Thankfully, under pressure from local residents, the planning committee refused the 2008 proposal. It then went on appeal. The independent appeal inspector roundly rejected the dreadful proposals.
He noted that the site was in a pivotal location in the Conservation Area and should command a very high standard of design.
Attentive local residents may see some parallels here with the council’s equally unsatisfactory handling of the first Archery Road planning application - and one or two others around the area.
The council does have powers of various kinds including: setting out and consistently enforcing clear design standards; use of the building regulations; service of completion notices; service of notices under S215 of the Planning Act; compulsory purchase; negotiation for revised schemes (see for example the Archery Road college site) perhaps bringing in third parties; and leveraging-in of regeneration funds.
If these are deployed as part of a well thought out strategy they can often succeed in dealing with such eyesore sites in critical locations.
To be successful this needs councillors with leadership skills, a steady long-term focus on problem sites, a consistent approach seeking high quality outcomes and above all the courage to call a developer’s bluff from time to time.
Grasping (as Councillor Daniel appears to) at any old development outcome based on planning applications that happen to turn up in front of the planning committee for fear that nothing better can be found is not likely to lead to good develpment outcomes.
In this particular case the council needs to recognise the national architectural and historical importance and potential of Burtons’ St Leonards (BSL)- comparable to Bath or Portmeirion - and the pivotal role within it of this particular site.
A detailed action plan and design standards will be needed which allows BSL to be exploited as a key local regeneration resource. In such a plan appropriate uses for the Undercliff site and ways to achieve these should be set out.
One obvious suggestion is secure parking for the nearby hotel and other businesses which would allow a dramatic improvement in the character and development potential of the whole area.
The Burtons’ St Leonards Society could perhaps be invited to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan?
It appears to have the enthusiasm and the skills to do this. It’s perhaps worth noting that the Government has recently suggested that more funding is likely to be available for neighbourhood planning in deprived areas.
Retired member of the Royal Town Planning Institute
Chairman, Hastings Urban Design Group