Sedlescombe children’s activity centre plans turned down

Controversial proposals to create a children’s activity centre in Sedlescombe have been unanimously refused by Rother planners.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 12:35 pm

On Thursday (March 11), Rother District Council planners considered an application from PGL to open an activity centre at the former Pestalozzi site in Ladybird Lane. 

While recommended for approval by officers, the scheme was, after more than three hours of discussion, unanimously refused by the committee due to concerns around its impact on the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Moving refusal, Cllr Susan Prochak said: “It is major development in the AONB, it is not in the public interest and the need for this sort of centre could be met outside of the AONB.

Pestalozzi Village, Sedlescombe. SUS-180919-124457001

“I think we all applaud that these sorts of activity centres are brilliant for children and I don’t think we can deny the benefit of them. 

“I don’t think anyone at this meeting would deny that, but it has got to be in the right place and I cannot see any reason why it is in the AONB.”

The application had seen significant opposition from local residents, with several objectors speaking at the meeting.

These included Sedlescombe parish councillor Nichola Moore, who said: “Rother District Council received over a thousand letters of objection from residents, which demonstrates the significant problems with this application, which seeks to build an accommodation centre housing over 700 people.

“[That is] equivalent to a village the size of Catsfield or Staplecross or building around 350 houses in a prominent location of the AONB, within the small village of Sedlescombe [and] adjacent to ancient woodland. “This conflicts with both local and national [planning] policies.”

In all, some 1,030 individual letters of objection were lodged against, although officers said this included multiple letters from the occupiers of the same properties and came at various stages of the application process. 

Many of the objectors argued the activity centre would generate significant amounts of noise and, due to the number of guests, result in a major ‘intensification’ of the site.

In addition there was a petition signed by 90 people objecting on the grounds the proposals would significantly change the use of the site as well as have an unacceptable impact on the High Weald AONB, surrounding ancient woodland and general biodiversity.

The applicant however argued that much of what was proposed was very similar to what was already covered by an existing planning permission and that their proposals actually improved on this existing scheme. 

Head of operations for PGL Bruce Garrod said: “The application site already has an established use for residential training and educational use and planning permission for buildings that could accommodate a similar number of children to that proposed by PGL. 

“With regard to the land aspect, we consider that through the more sensitive siting of the new buildings, the use of more sensitive materials such as wood cladding and green roofs, the use of green willow acoustic fencing and the replanting and planting of trees, the proposal with have less impact on the AONB landscape than the extant permission.”

He added: “With regard to noise, the main concern would appear to be the anticipated noise that may be generated by children. 

“The children are always under the supervision of PGL staff and their own teachers; all day, all evening and all night. They are constantly occupied by a structured programme of educational activities during the day (which is mainly outside) and in the early evening (which is mostly inside). At night they are generally tired of these activities and need a good rest.

“PGL have taken on several revisions to reduce the number of activity places from 10 to seven and do all activities as from residents as possible and provide living willow acoustic fencing. 

“PGL will work closely with the council’s environmental health officers and local residents to avoid any unacceptable noise arising from the site.” 

Mr Garrod went on to say that PGL intended to appeal a refusal but would begin operating under the existing planning permission should that fail.

These argument failed to sway the committee, however, which concluded it would be a major development within the AONB and did not provide “exceptional” reasons why it should be approved.

Planners had originally been due to decide on the application in August 2020, but the scheme was withdrawn shortly before going before the committee in light of some late representations.

For further details of the scheme see application reference RR/2019/1659/P on the Rother District Council planning website.