February 18, 2016 by combehavendefenders
On 11 February, Rother District Council’s planning committee considered the planning application for the North Bexhill Access Road (NBAR). The fifteen members of the committee (thirteen Conservatives, one Independent and one Liberal Democrat) were charged with deciding whether SeaChange should be given permission to build a 2.4km road, at huge cost to the public purse, which would allow for the whole area between the road and Bexhill to be infilled with business parks and houses.
Given the preponderance of empty SeaChange business parks locally, one might think it would be hard to make a case for more, but apparently not. And in terms of housing, it should be noted that recent research from the Council for the Protection of Rural England showed that government housing targets could be met by building entirely on brownfield land rather than sacrificing important countryside to new homes. However, the government – in the pockets of developers – clearly has no intention of bringing in a ‘brownfield first’ planning policy.
On and off and on and off and on again
The NBAR had already been on – and off – the agenda twice, but this time was for real. The committee sat down, director of SeaChange John Shaw and his cronies pitched up as usual, a couple of police officers settled in in case of trouble, and we were off.
The planning officer gave a long and detailed presentation: the road was in the local plan, it was supported by all Rother council’s policies, the environmental issues could be mitigated, the air pollution was insignificant, the road would only redistribute – not create – traffic, greenhouse gas emissions would be insignificant, and all in all it was a jolly good thing and the recommendation was that the application be granted.
A few councillors asked questions of the assembled air pollution and highways experts, although many chose to sit silent. Questions were raised about the impact on ancient woodland, about traffic snarl ups with the proposed road, about a farm where the land would be severed by the road, about the supposed cost of the road. Answers from the ‘experts’ were at best cursory, and gave the impression that there were no issues with the road that could not be solved with mitigation measures.
Two councillors made it clear from the start that they were against the road – Councillor Oliver (Independent) because he said it was premature, and that the council should wait to see whether SeaChange could fill its existing business parks before allowing an access road for them to build more. Councillor Prochak (Liberal Democrat) said the road was not ‘a 21st century solution’ to transport and that we should be trying to get people out of their cars rather than building more roads. She also said how much better it would have been had the money been put into a station at Glyne Gap instead. Indeed.
Dreams will come true
These were lone voices, however. Such was the popularity of the road, no fewer than four non-planning committee councillors had piled in to have their say. Councillor Watson, the Labour member for Sidley – who arguably should have been against it as that would appear to be the feeling of most of his constituents – got to his feet twice to extol the virtues of it.
He dismissed suggestions that the road would affect trade in Sidley as ‘absolute nonsense’, talked about how wonderful the Link road is (because you can get to Tesco in 15 minutes), and said – bizarrely – that ‘What the future holds none of us really truly know, but we can hope that it will be and their dreams will come actually true’.
Beirut, East Sussex
Councillor Carroll – the other Sidley councillor – was also all in favour of it. He claimed that people who’d ‘rubbished’ the link road were now saying what a great road it was (if anyone knows of any such person, do let us know), and said that in the past, people wouldn’t visit Sidley because they thought it was Beirut, whereas now that Lidl had moved in, everyone wanted to come, and with the new road in place would soon be enjoying ‘the village way of life’.
‘Big lovely roads’
Councillor Hart – another non-planning committee councillor – gave an impassioned speech which some might say verged on the sycophantic:
‘I am absolutely impressed by Jeff Pyrah [the planning officer] and his team’s work put into this, I’ve been on a site visit last year, the thought that goes into it, the completely different way of looking, a whole new modern way of thinking, of building big, lovely roads with cycle paths, walkways, development, residential homes with green areas, it’s absolutely fantastic and I commend you very well for that’.
We must think of the future
The common theme amongst those councillors in favour of the road – repeated almost ad nauseum – was ‘the future’. We must think of the future, we must move ahead, we must do something. Whether the best ‘something’ to do at a time of catastrophic climate change and species loss is to build a new road which would destroy valuable countryside and habitats, was not an issue that the committee spent a lot of time on.
What are we voting for again?
As with the first planning application for the Queensway Gateway road, there was a certain lack of engagement with the issue from a number of councillors. Six of the fifteen (stand up, Councillors Stevens, Hughes, Douart, Kentfield, Rowlinson and Curtis) failed to open their mouths throughout. Another, Councillor Azad, stared intently at the ceiling whilst the planning officer was talking and displaying maps of the site. When the vote was called, he put his hand up confidently and then as an afterthought leaned forward to ask the Chair whether he was voting for or against the road by raising his hand at that juncture.
‘Two legs and one arm’
Councillor Graham criticised other councillors who he said had come to the meeting having already decided which way they would vote. He was there, he said, to hear all the evidence and make his mind up one way or the other. Towards the end of the meeting he said, ‘I’m trying to make my mind up whether I think it’s appropriate for this new road. Seems to me I’ve got two legs and one arm and I haven’t got my second arm’. Three minutes later, and with no further information (and no further arms) having been presented to the committee, he put his hand up to second the motion that permission for the road should be granted.
And so to the vote
Councillor Ganly proposed that permission should be granted; Councillor Graham seconded the motion. Like sheep, all thirteen Conservative councillors raised their hands obediently. Councillors Oliver and Prochak voted against, but as always, SeaChange got what they wanted. SeaChange always gets what they want: could this have anything to do with the fact that their board of directors includes members from every local council?
- You can read the full transcript of the planning meeting here.