Amenities and Services Objection
Submitted to Wealden District Council by Mike Corkhill on behalf of the Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG)
28 November 2022
When they come to consider proposed new housing developments in their areas, Town and Parish Councils in Wealden always request that local needs and conditions take precedence over the District Council’s mission to meet the set target for the overall number of new homes that need to be built within its jurisdiction each year.
The Town and Parish Council request takes on added significance due to the facts that (a) there are currently around 8,000 unbuilt permissions in Wealden and (b) Wealden’s annual newbuild target is artificially high (some say by a factor of three), based as it is on the now-defunct 2014 Local Plan, with its outdated population growth projections and skewed algorithm. Both Office of National Statistics (ONS) data and general practitioner (GP) registrations show that the number of births in Wealden has fallen significantly in the last five years.
No one has a better idea of what their areas can accommodate in terms of new homes at specific sites and no one has a better idea of how their residents feel about proposed new housing developments than the local Town and Parish Council councillors.
Uckfield Town Council, Little Horsted Parish Council, Framfield Parish Council and Isfield Parish Council have all objected to the Castlefort Homes proposal to build 400 homes at Horstedpond Farm (as set out in Planning Application No WD/2022/2016/MAO) on a number of counts. Amongst these are the inadequacy of the public services and amenities infrastructures in Uckfield and its immediate surrounds. All four councils point out that these “public services, amenities and transport infrastructures are currently stretched to breaking point”, before the addition of any further new homes, and highlight the significant difficulties inherent in attempting to enhance these Uckfield infrastructures.
Uckfield’s public services and amenities need to serve not only the town’s 15,000 population but also the residents of the many outlying villages in North Wealden. Several of these villages are having their own proposed housing development projects to contend with at the moment.
The health and fire services, in particular, are facing problems in meeting the needs of the existing local populations due to deep-rooted recruitment problems. On top of this, the current steep rises in food and energy prices in 2022, and the attendant increases in inflation and interest rates, have forced the UK government into painful budget-balancing measures, including further drastic cuts in public expenditure.
Against this background, there is also talk of a need to cut the number of police community support officers (PCSOs) by 25% across Sussex while the UK-wide strikes by nurses promised for December 2022 over the issue of low pay will be the biggest walkout in the National Health Service’s history.
Uckfield and Buxted’s three general practitioner (GP) surgeries are currently short of the services of an aggregate five doctors. GP surgeries across the UK are struggling to recruit and retain sufficient salaried doctors as the limited number of qualified candidates for such posts can earn much more and brighten their career prospects by making their services available as locums. During the summer of 2022, for example, the Meads Medical Centre in Uckfield lost half its complement of doctors and for several months the surgery’s 9,000-plus patients were served by only two doctors.
Local firefighters are facing their own set of problems. In the recent past the East Sussex Fire Authority has approved cuts to the Fire Service in Uckfield. As a result, there will be a 25 per cent reduction in the number of firefighters and one of the fire engines based at the Uckfield Community Fire Station will become a service spare. A spokesperson for the Uckfield Fire Service states that the loss of the use of the engine “will drastically reduce its availability to attend emergency calls in Uckfield”. The cuts will also have wider repercussions, beyond Uckfield, as attendance at emergency incidents outside their own location, in support of neighbouring brigades, is an inherent feature of the firefighting services.
Uckfield has five primary schools and one secondary school. None are in close proximity to the proposed Horstedpond Farm development and would, therefore, require primarily private car journeys to drop off and pick up pupils. Mounting a bus service to serve the relatively remote homes proposed for Horstedpond Farm, as an alternative transport option, would pose significant logistics and cost challenges.
Residents of Uckfield and its many neighbouring villages will be familiar with the frequency in which the car parks of the town’s two supermarkets, Tesco and Waitrose, fill up during the course of a normal week. The restricted nature of the town’s highway system means that shoppers visiting these supermarkets often have difficulties in not only finding a parking space but also, due to gridlock, entering and leaving the facilities.
The permitted Ridgewood Place development, with its 1,000 new homes directly across Lewes Road from the proposed Horstedpond Farm development, had held out the promise of additional services and amenities. Under the Ridgewood Place plan, which Wealden approved in 2016, the existing farmhouse and brick buildings near the centre of the site would be converted to provide a local convenience shop, health facilities and a community meeting space. A one-form primary school, with the potential to be expanded to two forms, was proposed for a location immediately to the south of the converted buildings.
However, neither the school nor any of the additional amenities fall within Stage 1 of the five-stage Ridgewood Place development, and the 250-home Stage 1 is the only phase of the scheme that has progressed to any degree. Even that is far from complete, as sales of Stage 1 dwellings have now slowed to a trickle in the face of the current parlous UK housing market. So far, no detailed plans have been submitted to Uckfield Town Council for the construction of the 750 homes and associated amenities that would be provided under Stages 2-5 of the Ridgewood Place scheme.
I and my Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG) colleagues object to the Castlefort Homes proposal to build 400 homes at Horstedpond Farm on the amenities and services grounds described above.