Proposals to demolish a vacant pub and build housing in its place would have been approved if not taken to appeal, councillors have said.
On Thursday (May 30), Rother District Council’s planning committee considered whether it would have granted planning permission to demolish the former White Hart pub in Cripps Corner and build four houses, a small commercial premises and parking in its place.
The now inactive application was considered as part of the council’s response to the Planning Inspectorate, which is looking into the proposals in light of an appeal by developers on the grounds of non-determination.
While the application had proven to be controversial with residents, planning officers advised the committee that it was considered to be a scheme which should have been approved.
In light of this advice, Tony Ganly (Con, Northern Rother) said: “Ewhurst Parish Council and some residents had raised concerns to this development – amongst them overdevelopment, parking, traffic, loss of light, drainage and the viability of the existing pub.
“[But] with regards to overdevelopment the report explains how it would be very difficult to sustain a refusal on those grounds.
“In terms of viability, the efforts to sell the property have not been perfect. Nevertheless it seems to me that a refusal on these grounds would be flimsy and probably unlikely to persuade the planning inspector.
“I would be very sad to lose such an iconic building, but I really can’t see solid material planning reasons for refusing this application.”
Cllr Ganly also spoke of other residents’ concerns, but argued these would also not been grounds for refusal.
Other councillors, however, expressed their unease around the application – particularly around the viability of the now vacant White Hart pub.
Susan Prochak (Lib Dem, Robertsbridge) said: “This is a very difficult one, isn’t it. When it was a thriving pub it provided employment and we know from experience that if you get the right management and the right chef then pubs can be gold mines.
“Also this is a hamlet, it is not near any services. If this was on a hamlet which was not on a main road, then I don’t think we would be recommending approving this at all.”
Cllr Prochak also raised concerns about the development’s proposed design, saying it was not easily accessible and out of character with the rest of the area.
Several other councillors also raised concerns about the number of homes proposed on the site.
They included Lynn Langlands (Ind, Bexhill Kewhurst), who raised concerns around the density of the housing proposed for the site, as well as its parking arrangements and impact on highway safety.
Cllr Langlands also raised concerns about how the application had been delayed enough for the developers to appeal on non-determination grounds.
While this was not discussed during the meeting, in its appeal application the developer says the council had initially failed to contact East Sussex Highways for comment on the application leading to an extension of time.
The developer says this time extension was passed without a decision being made, in its grounds for appeal.
Following further discussion, the committee agreed to advise the Planning Inspectorate that it would have approved the scheme, albeit with a number of conditions proposed by officers. This decision was taken on a vote of nine in favour and five against.
The committee’s decision does not mean developers will automatically gain planning permission, although it will likely influence the outcome of the appeal.
A second separate planning application for the site – a resubmission of the original – has also been put forward by the developer. See application reference RR/2019/1015/P on the Rother District Council planning website for more information.