Let us hope it’s not too late to save Sharnfold Farm

From: John BaileyHankham Street, Hankham

Friday, 12th March 2021, 9:52 am

The Wealden planning committee is shortly to vote upon the conversion of farmland to the beginnings of a housing estate.

Its vote will decide whether there is to be further traffic congestion at the Stone Cross crossroads with associated pollution from car fumes and whether Stone Cross takes yet another step towards urbanisation and the ultimate union of the area with the outskirts of Hailsham.

It will decide what level of protection (if any) it will give to the Pevensey Levels It also has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that rural land is retained for its amenity value and as a much-needed resource for agriculture. Ultimately it is they who hold sway as to whether the farm is to be scarified in the drive to “Build, Build, Build”.

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The decision is to be made by politicians. The political hue of the planning committee ensures that Conservative policies will be in play and perhaps will dictate the outcome. That is unless the councillors are prepared to stand back and fully consider their options.

A Conservative councillor recently posted on Facebook a summary of the dilemmas that a planning committee is facing in Wealden. He refers to the housing targets set by the government and the demand for those targets be met. He refers to the five-year “housing supply requirement test” which shows that the Wealden district has only met 3.85 years of the five-year test period. This did not appear to equate to the building bonanza that surrounds us and the lingering doubts as to whether the algorithm upon which the requirements has been based is itself reliable.

He also records the thinking of the Wealden planning department. Apparently, the planners recognise that the figures are alarming and that many of the communities in the district consider that there are too many homes being allowed. However, whatever their sympathies, it stresses the pressure it is under to “deliver the national shortage of homes”.

Notwithstanding that bleak picture, the planning committee should recognise that in the case of the Sharnfold Farm they do have the ability to disregard this dilemma.

The site is what is known as a “windfall site”; it is outside the boundary of the development area; it only consists of 31 houses of which only 11 will be affordable. It could easily be rejected on those grounds alone and particularly when account is taken of the rather unfortunate precedent that will be set if the application is granted for further housing along the rural corridor between Stone Cross and Hailsham.

It is manifestly apparent that such a small development could be located within a designated development area, which was, after all, the original purpose of designating such areas in Local Plans. It is clear from the objections lodged to date, that the proposed development is one of great concern to many. It may be 31 homes today but the developers have shown a clear intent ultimately to build up to 400 houses – in other words to annihilate a working farm for the sake of profit.

The farm was a vibrant pick your own business with the benefit of a farm shop, camping area, café, play area and opportunities for educational visits. The farm has been much loved by many locals and by tourists alike.

We can only hope that the members of the planning committee will not blindly follow party lines. Instead we can only hope that they will place the well-being of the community and of the Pevensey Levels in the forefront of their thinking and will disallow this destructive application, whatever the advice of the planning department.

If any reader is sympathetic to the views expressed in this letter, they should log on to the Wealden District Council website where they can find the names and e-mail addresses of the councillors on Wealden’s Planning South committee and contact those councillors to express their views. Let us hope it’s not too late to save Sharnfold Farm and its rural environs.