SeaChange submitted the planning application for its North Queensway business park project in April 2021. A year on, and the application is still mired in objections and requests for further information.
There are two stumbling blocks for SeaChange at this point: Natural England and Sussex Wildlife Trust, neither of which is very impressed by SeaChange’s plans.
Sussex Wildlife Trust – which leases Marline Valley from Hastings Borough Council – put in a formal objection in June 2021, citing concerns about loss of biodiversity, runoff causing pollution to Marline stream and the surrounding SSSI, inadequate buffers with ancient woodland, and the impact on bats.
Natural England followed on a week later with a 14-page comment raising many of the same concerns as Sussex Wildlife Trust. It wasn’t a formal objection, but it requested more information from SeaChange, without which, Natural England said, it ‘may need to object to the proposal’.
Plot 2.1 – again
Key for both organisations was the continued inclusion in the plan of plot 2.1, the plot to the NW of the site and nearest to Marline Valley. Natural England pointed out that it had asked SeaChange on numerous previous occasions to remove the plot from the plans, due to the risk of runoff into the environmentally sensitive stream system. Instead of building on 2.1, Natural England said, that plot should be ‘allocated for greenspace and enhancement’ [p3].
SeaChange doubles down…
Months went by. Finally, in November 2021 – and just before SeaChange lost the funding for the project – SeaChange put in its response to the objections. There were some very minor concessions – plot 2.1 had been reduced in size – but essentially the document consisted of SeaChange doubling down on the plans, insisting that most of the objections were invalid.
Unsurprisingly, Natural England and Sussex Wildlife Trust were not happy with SeaChange’s response. Both organisations soon put in their responses to the response (see here for SWT and here for NE). Sussex Wildlife Trust reiterated its objection, whilst Natural England insisted that SeaChange still had not provided sufficient information, particularly about drainage of the site and how it would impact on Marline Valley.
SeaChange doubles down even further…
Time rolled on, and in February 2022, SeaChange put in its second ‘agent response to objections’. Now they were doubling down even further, still refusing to remove plot 2.1 as well as refusing to increase the buffer between the car park and ancient woodland.
Predictably, Sussex Wildlife Trust objected again. And predictably, Natural England responded again, saying that they still needed more information from SeaChange on drainage and on how the mitigation hierarchy had been followed. They also asked for revisions to the plans in order to provide for biodiversity net gain and to increase the buffer to protect ancient woodland next to the site (both issues which SeaChange had previously dismissed [p5] as not being legal requirements therefore not necessary).
One year on and SeaChange won’t concede
So here we are, one year on, three responses from Natural England and Sussex Wildlife Trust down, SeaChange refusing to make any kind of concessions, and still no sign that the application will come before the planning committee anytime soon.
Hastings Council protecting green spaces?
In the meantime, Hastings Borough Council – which will decide the application – has made a very controversial U-turn on plans to sell playing fields at Tilekiln, in the west of the town (and in fact very near North Queensway), to Hastings United to allow it to relocate from its site on Elphinstone Road. The reason given was this:
Since these discussions started, the Council has declared a Climate Emergency and has also had to rethink priorities after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it has been decided that protecting our green spaces for open and free community access is vital.
Will the council make the same decision with regard to North Queensway, and return it to the biodiverse green space it used to be before SeaChange destroyed it? Or will they do what they did in the case of the Queensway Gateway road – roll over and allow SeaChange to trash another of our green spaces in the name of progress? We will do everything we can to stop that from happening.