‘Hurt’ councillors refuse planning changes for Mountfield stables

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Rother planners spoke of their ‘hurt’ as they refused an application to remove conditions from a small rural stables in Mountfield.

Considered by Rother District Council’s planning committee on Thursday (February 13), the application had sought to vary conditions governing the use of an equestrian ground and stables buildings off Mountfield Lane.

The site (which had been developed without consent) was granted retrospective planning permission in August last year, but with restrictive conditions tying it to a single owner and requiring demolition of the buildings should its use as a stables ever cease. 

But as one of those to make the original decision, Cllr Mary Barnes (Con, Hurst Green and Ticehurst) said these conditions had been intended as a compromise – balancing the applicant’s interests and with those of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Cllr Barnes said: “We felt sorry for her, we wanted to help her as much as we could and the condition was the actual reason we allowed her to stay there. 

“We could easily have said no and taken enforcement action to remove it. And there was a very strong feeling, I believe, locally that this [development] shouldn’t have been happening at all. 

“Out of the goodness of hearts, we decided to allow her to keep the horses and the buildings but only as long as she needed it. 

“I can’t see – going back to how I felt about that application – why anything should change at all. In fact I am quite hurt that she should actually come back now and ask for that to be lifted.”

Similar views had been aired by ward councillor Eleanor Kirby-Green (Con), who argued the application could set a precedent for similar sites around the district. 

She said: “Clearly the erection of horse-related buildings should be allowed – subject to other considerations – when someone is keeping horses in paddocks and fields next to their domestic property,

“But there is a difference when somebody buys an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere and then tries to put up stables, electric fences, etc. 

“For a start, given our considerable concerns about the climate, these applications create road usage [and] it drives out agriculture, because people are prepared to pay more for housing their horses than sheep grazing.

“Finally, as can be seen when travelling across the district, these developments always nearly always contribute to clutter, which cannot then be controlled.”

Officers, however, warned that maintaining the conditions may be vulnerable to appeal, as they may not be able to pass the ‘reasonableness test’ laid out in national planning policy.

Notably, the retrospective application had actually been recommended for approval when presented in August, with the contentious conditions not among those originally suggested by officers.

This advice garnered some support from councillors, but the committee ultimately opted to maintain the conditions – rejecting the application – contrary to recommendations.

For further details see application reference RR/2019/2525/P on the Rother District Council website.