Plans that would see 200 new houses built at Blackfriars in Battle, while welcomed by Rother District Council (RDC), have not gone down well with a number of the town’s residents.
The Blackfriars site has been allocated for development for several years but now money from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund has been made available to help to deliver a new road, making it possible to develop the site for what the council says is, “desperately needed housing in the district”.
Councillor Terry Byrne, the council’s portfolio holder for housing, said last year: “It’s extremely important this much-needed development positively contributes to the local identity and character of the area while respecting the neighbouring woodland.
“The Covid-19 crisis meant we are unable to share the plans with the public in the way we had planned.”
RDC said architects are designing high quality low-carbon homes which maximise the use of solar energy and renewable energy technologies. The scheme will include green spaces, while landscaped spaces will promote ‘ecological biodiversity’, the council says.
The proposal, however is not without its critics, one local resident we spoke to worries about the lack of public consultation that has gone on and at the low levels of awareness among local people about just what is being proposed.
Rob Dyer accepts that his home is adjacent to the proposed development site but says that’s not why he is opposed to the scheme: “When we bought this house we knew that one day that land would be developed but there was no detail, it’s the detail, and specifically the scale, of what is being proposed that is a concern,” he says.
Mr Dyer believes that because it has been impossible to hold public meetings in the last year a scheme of the size proposed at Blackfriars should have been delayed until proper local consultation could have taken place, he says the whole thing feels as if it is being “rushed through”.
At the root of Mr Dyer’s concerns is whether Battle, as a town, can cope with the pressure more than 200 new homes will place on its resources. He points out that planners project an additional 1,300 car journeys every day and he questions if the local schools and medical services can cope.
“The schools have said they will make the extra capacity but they will do that by reducing the size of their catchment areas,” he says.
“I simply believe that battle just does not have the infrastructure to cope with this number of new homes. Doctors say they will absorb the additional number of people but will that mean waiting times for appointments extending even further?” asks Mr Dyer.
He’s concerned too about congestion caused by additional traffic and about road safety. The nearest shop to the new development will be the Tesco Express on Battle Hill, a road which those going to the shop on foot would have to cross and a road where it’s not possible to put in a pedestrian crossing because the road is narrow, there is no pavement on one side of it and local people believe that Esso, the owners of the site, would not allow it – there have already been fatal accidents involving pedestrians in that area, says Mr Dyer.
RDC has acquired other land around the Blackfriars site so there is also concern that the development being considered next week is just the start of something bigger.
Mr Dyer is not alone in being worried about the impact the proposed development at Blackfriars could have.
In a submission to the council Mike Cogswell says: “I am extremely concerned that these proposals are coming forward in their current form and object to this… application for a major development which is not supported by the necessary infrastructure, which will adversely impact on the residents living nearby and have a serious environmental impact.
“RDC also has a blatant conflict of interest in this project. It is acting both as aggressive landowner/developer… to drive forward its property investment strategy, while purporting to exercise impartial planning scrutiny and oversight on the same very highly contentious scheme through the planning process. It stretches credulity to believe that the Planning Committee will question or overturn a corporate strategy which (presumably) its members helped formulate and RDC has corporately invested so much in.”
Like Mr Dyer he feels consultation on the scheme has been poor: “While most local residents will already be aware that Blackfriars is a potential development site, there is evidence that, despite a long gestation period – which might have lulled residents into a false sense of security – they may not have had adequate time or information to assimilate and respond adequately to these specific proposals which have come forward relatively quickly… during the lockdown restrictions.”
Margaret Kendall says: “This will destroy an area of natural beauty which I thought could not be built on. The land is unsuitable for this type of construction… Infrastructure will not be able to support this.”
“(There is) No mention of pedestrian safety along Harrier Lane with increased traffic. While I appreciate the need, this land is not suitable, the plan not in keeping with the historic town we live in.”
- To find out more about the plans for Blackfriars follow the link below to the Rother District Council website