Bite-size facts and figures, covering Horstedpond Farm, Uckfield, Wealden, East Sussex and national-level developments, highlighting why we must continue to object to ill-conceived and opportunistic housing developments.
– There is an acknowledged shortage of 4/5 doctors in the three GP surgeries of Uckfield and its immediate surrounds. Qualified doctors can earn much more as independent locums than as salaried staff at a GP’s surgery.
– Getting a dentist appointment in East Sussex, and elsewhere in the country, was emerging as an issue pre-Covid and has since become increasingly critical. A Healthwatch survey carried out in late 2021 showed that only one in 10 dental practices in East Sussex were accepting new patients for NHS treatment on an unrestricted basis, and the situation has worsened since then. Dental practices are no longer delivering NHS contracts because of their punitive terms. A major country-wide issue for patients seeking dental care is the lack of suitable information about the current situation.
– Any step change increases in the number of households in Uckfield will necessitate commensurate boosts in primary school facilities.
– According to “Ghosts in the Hedgerow”, a new book by Tom Moorhouse, there are little more than half a million hedgehogs left in Britain today, down from 36 million in the 1950s. The two main reasons for this devastating decline are the losses in hedgerow quality and quantity and a massive fall in insect populations. The ultimate culprit is “modern life”.
– Over one-half of East Sussex is designated for its landscape value, either as part of a National Park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There are also 65 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), covering about 8% of the county, 26 Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), four National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and 285 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS). About one-third of the county supports priority habitats, which are identified as being of principal importance for conservation.
– In its consultee response to the Horstedpond Farm planning application, Natural England showered praise on the Castlefort Homes plan for a Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANG) at the site but paid scant attention to the value of the 27 hectares of agricultural land that would be destroyed by the development. Aside from the loss of the land, which is currently being farmed in accordance with Natural England’s guidelines for Countryside Stewardship, the fields around Horstedpond Farm provide not only direct habitats for flora and fauna but also safe corridors linking wildlife species in adjacent open spaces.
– The Castlefort Homes proposal for Horstedpond Farm states that it will provide a 15-metre wide buffer zone around the ancient woodland adjacent to the site. The Woodland Trust, in its consultee response, found that this would be inadequate. The response declares that that the applicant should provide a larger buffer zone some 50 metres in width to ensure adequate protection is provided to the two ancient woodlands adjacent to the site boundary.
– The UK Met Office predicts that the climate change effects in East Sussex in the years ahead will include hotter and drier summers, milder and wetter winters, more droughts, more flooding and more intense and frequent storms. This is expected to lead to an increase in heat-related deaths, particularly amongst the elderly, damage to essential infrastructure, increased cost of food, disruption to supply chains and service provision, greater coastal erosion and impact on coastal habitats. Proposed housing developments need to embrace adequate climate change mitigation measures.
– In late August 2022 the Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG) founder members learned that Castlefort Homes was about to submit an Outline Planning Application to Wealden District Council (WDC) for the 400 homes that would completely surround their small enclave of four residences. The application went live on 15 September 2023 and Wealden District Council allowed only up until 10 October 2022 for objections to the Castlefort Homes proposal to be submitted online. The Application caught everyone by surprise; there was no opportunity for a wide public consultation that such a major proposal warrants. No public meetings or exhibitions were scheduled by the applicant. No Statement of Community Involvement was submitted with the proposal. If it had been, the dearth of any meaningful pre-application consultation would have been apparent to all concerned (see also Horstedpond Farm Refusal 2018).
– The most recent figures published by the UK Environment Agency show that only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status and no river meets good chemical status. A ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste, plastic and persistent chemicals is polluting rivers, says the Agency, and household waste and hydrocarbons are adding to the mix of pollutants. The water quality of rivers in England is the worst in Europe.
– Southern Water and South West Water are by far the worst performers in terms of pollution incidents amongst the 10 regional water companies in England. The number of reported incidents in their jurisdictions in 2020 was 100,000 and 150,000, respectively, or four and six times their target numbers and the numbers logged by other water companies. The heavy fines that have been levied on these companies for a very limited number of particularly onerous pollution incidents do not appear to act as a deterrent, due to their large number of customers, and hence high cash flows. There have been decades of under-investment in England’s sewerage network and complacency has crept in on the part of successive administrations, water companies and regulators. Public confidence in the regulatory structures currently in force is low, due not least to the very few prosecutions that have been undertaken.
– Approximately 76% of the working population of East Sussex is in employment. In Wealden 7% of those in work are employed in the manufacturing sector, with another 9% in construction. The rest work in various of the service sectors.
– The proposed Horstedpond Farm development for 400 new homes on 27 hectares of rural land would totally encircle an enclave of about three hectares that contains an ancient farmstead dating from medieval times. This heritage asset is formally recognised by a Grade 2 listing on the original farmhouse and an Article 4 Direction on the whole development site and farmstead. Besides the Grade 2-listed building, the Horstedpond Farm enclave also contains three converted farm building residences which date from the 17th century and also hold heritage status.
– The UK’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires that the setting of a historic building should be considered as part of the planning process and WDC has a statutory obligation to give special regard to the desirability of preserving listed buildings and their settings.
Horstedpond Farm Refusal 2018
– in August 2018 Wealden District Council refused an application to build a large number of homes at Horstedpond Farm. WDC concluded that the site was unsuitable owing to its isolation and that the development would be out of keeping with the surrounding land uses. The rejection did accept that if the Horstedpond Farm proposal was to be resubmitted at some stage in the future in tandem with other proposed SHELAA projects as part of a comprehensive redevelopment of the land connected to the A22, it may be considered suitable for development in combination with this associated infrastructure and amenities. WDC also noted that any resubmission of the proposal would need to consider the presence of the Grade 2-listed building and its setting at the site. It then went on to say that a full transport assessment would be needed to test the impacts on Uckfield town centre and to help determine what sustainable travel arrangements would be required. The Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG) contends that the new Castlefort Homes’ Outline Planning Application for Horstedpond Farm fails to meet either of these three WDC qualifying criteria set down in 2018 (see also Consultation process and Transport).
Number of houses
– According to Mike Gadd of the Save Wealden From Overdevelopment Team (SWOT), there were 8,899 unbuilt permissions in Wealden as of 30 March 2023. Around 1,700 of these are in Uckfield and its surrounding villages.
– A total of 2,841 windfall homes were built in Wealden during the 2007-17 decade. As of March 2023, the construction of a further 367 windfall homes had been approved since 2020 while applications for a further 1,449 such homes, all on greenfield land, are awaiting decisions.
– The price of the average home within the Wealden district is 11.55 times the median gross annual salary.
– The total number of new homes in South East England is expected to grow by 257,000 between 2018 and 2028, according to UK household growth prediction figures compiled by the Office of National Statistics. Yet the latest target for the annual number of new homes that Wealden District Council (WDC) deems to be needed and is working to for its jurisdiction is 1,231 (net). Calculated using the government’s standard method, 1,231 is a jump of 226% on the Council’s previous annual target number. This means that, theoretically, WDC alone is being called on to provide 12,300 new homes over the next 10 years, or 5% of South East England’s required new dwellings, while the district’s population of 160,000 represents only 1.7% of 9.3 million people living in South East England.
– The construction of new homes at the target rate of 1,231 per annum in Wealden would result in the provision of 6,165 new dwellings over a five-year period. That’s equivalent to a town the size of Uckfield.
– Of equal importance to the number of new homes is the type. Wealden District Council (WDC) policy states that all new housing developments of 10 dwellings or more should ensure that 35% are affordable homes. However, many sites fail to achieve this. For example, the 1,000-home Ridgewood Place project in Uckfield, which is currently under construction, is unlikely to provide more than 150 affordable homes, some 200 short of the 35% target. As Wealden’s Liberal Democrats have pointed out, this is because, after planning permission has been given, developers are able to negotiate, in private, a reduction in the target number in order to achieve an acceptable profit (usually taken to be 20% of the cost of the development). Developers and building contractors would be discouraged from proceeding with construction if such a profit margin could not be secured.
– Wealden District Council (WDC) acknowledges the need for an increased supply of smaller private properties across all tenures. While only 7.6% of Wealden’s stock are 1-bedroom dwellings, 27.6% of the district’s households are single-person households. Additionally, within the affordable sector there is a high demand for smaller properties, as indicated by the fact that 47% of households registered for affordable housing require 1-bedroom properties and a further 28% 2-bedroom properties.
– Wealden District Council (WDC) acknowledges the need for an increased supply of affordable housing, as well as specialist/adaptable/supported housing in view of its ageing population. It is predicted that the number of people with a disability in Wealden will increase from 25,676 in 2018 to 36,531 in 2032. Private rented accommodation makes up only 11.1% of Wealden’s stock, versus 16.7% nationwide. Notwithstanding supply issues, private rented accommodation is not affordable for many households due to the Local Housing Allowance which is based on lower quartile rents.
– The population of East Sussex stood at approximately 560,000 in 2020, some 26% of which was 65 years of age or over, compared to 19% for England in general. There will be an estimated 17,900 more people in East Sussex by 2025. Deaths will outweigh births over the five-year period and the increase will be driven by net migration into the county.
– The population of Wealden in 2020 was 162,700, living in approximately 68,000 homes. Trend-based population projections put this population at 180,000 in 2043, of which 33.6% will be 65 and over.
– The developer of the proposed Horstedpond Farm housing project extols the joys of cycling, promoting the humble bike as an important way of reducing the number of private car journeys for the 2 km trip into Uckfield town centre. Yet the gradient of Lewes Road going up past the Ridgewood Post Office towards the Highlands Inn averages 6%, with a maximum of 7.3%. And coming out of Uckfield, cycling past the railway station and heading towards the Highlands, the gradient is 5%, with a maximum of 7.4%. These gradients, along with the busy car traffic on this route and the narrow roads lined with parked cars, ensure that cycling into town is a consideration only for fit and experienced cyclists, and certainly not a viable option for shopping trips.
– In their consultee response to the Horstedpond Farm planning application East Sussex County Council’s Highway Department expresses concern that the development would likely generate a high volume of private car traffic on the town’s already stretched road infrastructure. The site’s remoteness from the town centre make the alternatives of walking and cycling impractical and prevents any efficient connectivity to the town’s amenities. Furthermore, the developer’s modelling of the Horstedpond Farm proposal’s traffic impact is incomplete and a Travel Plan has not been provided. ESCC Highways also raises serious concerns about the unsuitability of the access arrangement proposed for the site.
– As part of their manifesto, the Greens state that there should be no new housing projects without adequate infrastructure being in place before the start of construction work.
– There are 1.46 cars per household in South East England, the highest percentage of England’s regions. Some 88.7% of South East England’s households have at least one car or van. Based on this ratio, if all the housing development projects proposed for Uckfield were to go ahead, over 6,500 vehicles would be added to the town’s existing car population.
Wealden planning crisis
– In a statement issued on 2 December 2022, the Save Wealden from Overdevelopment Team (SWOT), a public group, contended that the planning system in Wealden is totally undemocratic and totally broken. SWOT provided a link to the webcast of a meeting of the Wealden’s Planning Committee South (PCS) the previous day to highlight the extent to which Wealden Planning Officers exert high levels of control over proceedings.
– SWOT states that Wealden Planning Officers are allowing, without challenge, applications from housing developers that have not completed the necessary site suitability investigations. Furthermore, developers are submitting reports that are substandard, inaccurate and out-of-date, and these are being accepted. In addition, when conditions are imposed on the proposed scheme during the planning process, developers often ignore them and WDC does not enforce adherence to the conditions.
– SWOT points out that Wealden Planning Officers do not support councillors when developers launch an appeal following a councillor decision to go against an officer recommendation and refuse a proposal. Furthermore, because developers get expensive legal teams to represent them, there is only going to be one outcome – an approval of the proposed scheme.