Newsletter from Maresfield Parish Council

November 2020

Various pandemic related restrictions are still in force so if you are quarantining, self-isolating or are otherwise vulnerable do remember that if you need assistance of a non-medical nature you can phone the Parish Office on 714555 or contact the Wealden District Council Community Hub on 01342 443322.

And please look out for the new Parish Website http://www.maresfieldparish.org.uk/ which was launched in September.  We would welcome your feedback and hope to make it a really useful resource for Parish (not just Parish Council) information.

The Parish Council sets a budget each year and this expenditure becomes the Parish Precept part of your annual Council Tax Bill. The budget setting process for next year started at the October 13th meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee and continues at the November  meeting on November 10th. All Parish Council and Committee meetings are open to the public, though they are at the moment being held electronically using Zoom, and start with an allocated time for members of the public to raise issues and ask questions. Please contact the Parish Clerk for an invitation.

A Word or Two about Planning…….

Parishioners will know that Wealden District Council is the Planning Authority covering Maresfield. The Parish Council is consulted on all Planning Applications pertaining to the Parish and our Planning Committee, which meets (in public) every three weeks, comments on Applications and recommends to Wealden whether they should be approved or refused. Needless to say Wealden does not always accept our recommendations!

Unfortunately Wealden is currently in a vulnerable position when dealing with applications for new housing development and Parishioners may have read in the Uckfield press of the huge numbers of new homes which may be applied for in and around this local town. Wealden’s position in dealing with applications is weak because Wealden’s current planning policies are mainly contained in the 2013 Core Strategy which is considered to be out of date and Wealden does not have a five year housing land supply (ie does not comply with national policy which now requires councils to have enough approved sites ready for development to meet their housing need for the next five years). Consequently the National Planning Policy Framework dictates that when making a planning decision the balance must now be tilted in favour of sustainable development and less weight given to other (local) planning policies though national policies still apply such as those applicable to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas and protected areas such as a Special Protection Area (eg Ashdown Forest).

Wealden recently prepared and submitted for examination a new local plan but this was withdrawn early this year as the Inspector made it plain that inter alia its proposed policies to restrict development near the Ashdown Forest and the number of new homes planned for the District in the draft plan were unacceptable.

Developers thus now seem to view Wealden as a big opportunity to get new developments approved and some very recent planning decisions by Wealden do not in my view detract from this.

And if Wealden’s issues are not enough the Government has announced that it is proposing to change the algorithm for calculating the number of homes a District needs to plan for and has also published a White Paper which heralds a radical shake up of the whole planning system.

So where does this leave us in Maresfield Parish?

All of Fairwarp and most of Nutley are within the Ashdown Forest SPA and I understand that no new homes can be built within the SPA or within its surrounding 400m Exclusion Zone. However there are areas to the west of the main Nutley settlement where developers may propose new housing. Maresfield is not within the 400m Zone nor is it within an AONB. The Conservation Area designation for part of the Village does not prohibit development but will impose design and other restraints. Many Maresfield residents will be aware of the serious development ambitions of some of the local landowners as applications for substantial house numbers have been made and refused over recent years. The current Wealden Planning policy “vacuum “ may encourage them to renew their efforts.

So what can we as a Community and as a Parish Council do to prevent unsuitable development in the wrong place being imposed on Maresfield Parish?

Firstly, I believe we have to accept that some new development is inevitable but we must strive to ensure that it is the right kind of development in the right place.

Secondly, I believe we should cooperate with the developers who are prepared to work with us to achieve acceptable development in order to maximise its Community benefit such as expanded recreation facilities or funding for a Community project such as a new village hall.

Thirdly, I believe we should continue with the preparation of our Neighbourhood Development Plan. A dedicated steering group has been working on this for some years but a major constraint is that it has to be compatible with the District’s Local Plan. Earlier work of this group influenced the planning of many of the 50 homes allocated to Maresfield under the 2013 Core Strategy even though we did not have a Plan in place; and we were near completion of our revised Plan having regard to Wealden’s new draft Local Plan when that was withdrawn rendering our Plan largely irrelevant.  Wealden is publishing a list of sites which land owners in the District have recently submitted to Wealden for consideration of their suitability for inclusion in the next Local Plan. The steering group will seek to discuss with and influence such landowners so that their development ambitions might be acceptable to our local communities. However it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to complete our NDP until we have some indication from Wealden how many new homes are likely to be allocated to Maresfield Parish in their new Local Plan; this information is not anticipated to be available for many months.

And, fourthly I believe that we should not be backward in expressing our dissatisfaction to our elected representatives that Wealden appears to have lost control of planning in our District which in our part of the District can only be to the detriment of our beautiful countryside and our quality of life.

It would be good if this article opens up (an online) discussion on local planning issues and so I welcome all constructive feedback which will also be shared with the NDP steering group as appropriate.

To keep up to date about local matters the internet and social media are invaluable resources. Useful links are:

https://my.wealden.gov.uk/           http://www.maresfieldparish.org.uk/    

http://www.uckfieldtc.gov.uk/       https://www.ashdownforest.org/

And you can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Martin Craddock – Chairman Maresfield Parish Council