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We have called on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call in the controversial application for a riding arena across a public footpath at Hartfield in East Sussex. The path is used by walkers heading to the famous Poohsticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest.
Wealden District Council’s Planning Sub-Committee North is due to consider the application on Thursday (13 May). The Open Spaces Society and other objectors want the matter taken out of its hands and referred to ministers.
The application, from Mr and Mrs Ben Praagh of Faircote Hall, Chuck Hatch, is another stage in planning saga which has raged for nearly five years. They have already built the riding arena without planning consent. They submitted a retrospective application in 2007; Wealden Council officers recommended refusal, but the applicants withdrew the application only days before the meeting. Now they have submitted a further, slightly different, application and this time Wealden Council officers are recommending approval subject to conditions—which assume that the footpath will be diverted away from the arena.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We have asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to take over the determination of this application as a matter of urgency.
‘Clearly the case is of national importance—the arena is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which, according to the government’s Planning Policy Statement 7, “enjoys the highest level of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty”. The development is an eyesore and it generates traffic in this tranquil and beautiful landscape.
‘In addition, it was constructed illegally across a public footpath (which was obstructed until East Sussex County Council, the highway authority, took enforcement action). This path is particularly popular because it connects with the path to Poohsticks Bridge, where Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore, Roo and other animals played Poohsticks in A A Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.
‘If this development is allowed, the path would need to be moved to an inferior route—but there will be numerous objections to such a plan and it is unlikely to succeed. This path is of national importance.
‘The development is extremely controversial and has attracted objections from East Sussex County Council, Hartfield Parish Council, the Ramblers and many others. We are dismayed that Wealden Council is now recommending approval when the plan is almost identical to the earlier application which they proposed to reject.
‘In view of the complexities of the case, and its national implications, we trust the Secretary of State will intervene swiftly and call the matter in,’ Kate concludes.