After years of controversy and argument will tomorrow’s planning committee settle ‘The Bunker’ issue once and for all?

Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) planning committee will discuss the retrospective application for The Bunker at Rocklands tomorrow (Jan 19th) and officials are recommending approval. It is case HS/FA/20/00470 and you can see the full report going to members of the planning committee by clicking here

The history of ‘The Bunker’ at Rocklands Caravan Park is a long and complicated one, the case file is full of detailed objections, arguments and explanations. In advance of tomorrow’s meeting where councillors are being recommended to approve the retrospective application Bernard McGinley takes us through a brief summary of the issues.

The Caravan Park’s notorious Bunker, erupting in the Country Park, caused outrage and consternation and eventually the entire planning committee voted to demolish it. 

An appeal to the Planning Inspectorate followed, that saved most of it.  Since then it appears that Rocklands has treated the council and local residents with contempt, apparently going beyond or behind the rules, with multiple breaches of what the inspector decided after careful consieration in 2016.

How can what he decided was not acceptable somehow become acceptable?

The report for tomorrow night’s committee says:

“The retrospective nature of the application is not a material consideration that justifies refusal of permission.”

But in 2015 central government reform introduced a planning policy to make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration that would be weighed in the determination of planning applications and appeals. 

The report is misleading the committee therefore. 

If the officers mean that this intentional unauthorised development – with its twice-removed balcony – is not a material consideration sufficient to justify refusal of this retrospective application, they should say so.  Additionally they must explain how that supposition was arrived at. 

Site ‘redline area’ ignored 

Detailed and frequent concerns have been expressed about the building ‘redline area’, the land to which the application relates. This is a retrospective application but it – like the report – does not address the situation ‘as is’ in the site’s area. The site’s unauthorised works have been ignored rather than addressed: the extended balcony, the retaining walls, the excavations, the access ramp and steps, and related anomalies and discrepancies.  

Site visit ignored  

A Planning Committee site visit, reasonable and obvious in the circumstances, has so far been refused. Objection letters and emails have explained it repeatedly. Now there is now no time to arrange one. A decision not based on a site visit would be dubious.  

Independent remeasurement ignored 

Similarly, a proposed independent remeasurement of the Bunker was disregarded. Councillor Forward, Leader of the Council, was asked about one at Full Council on December 16th and has yet to answer the question.

The disputed balcony.

Balcony Depth ignored

The balcony depth was ‘visually’ inspected as being two metres, the legal maximum. HBC stated carefully last year that this is ‘not recorded information’. Now it is in the committee report.

The report describes the assertion of a deep balcony as ‘baseless.’ How can it be baseless if the balcony hasn’t been measured? Planning officers’ stated absence of notes and photographs is a breach of Local Government Ombudsman guidance.

Case ‘1036’ improperly engaged

The report’s assertion that case HS/FA/14/01036 was amended is false, it was in fact refused.

Tree screening ignored

Screening of the Bunker is not engaged with in the committee report. The Inspector’s Appeal decision endorsed the need for ‘increased screening’ as well as ‘smaller balconies’. Where is that screening?  

Enforcement enquiries ignored

Bunker enforcement cases ENF/20/00325 and ENF/20/00076 are not mentioned. Why would an enquiry be suspended rather than informing a planning decision? It makes no sense.

Historic England ignored

Historic England have made a site visit and their formal comment is due soon. This will address possible damage to the Iron Age Scheduled Monument at the site, and the absence of Scheduled Monument Consents.  Working on a Scheduled Monument without an ‘SMC’ is a criminal offence.

Structural report missing

Section 5 e) mentions a structural report that is not among the case documents, which is poor practice. What does it say?  Who is it by?

Blind-eye Administration

The issues just keep rolling. For instance, repeated breach non-compliance is a material consideration. Why therefore don’t the Council decide that this retrospective application is self-invalidating?

The Council’s response to a Freedom of Information request with the line: “Information not held – Emails from [HBC employee] to Historic England are not uploaded on system and his email has been deleted.” Is technically ridiculous. They’ve gone and they were never there anyway?  (Uploading is automatic with an employee’s email address.)

Possibly more important than procedural wrangles is the simple question of why HBC is so self-abasing before Rocklands Caravan Park. 

In 2014 they admitted in the ‘Bahcheli Report’ that they’d got it wrong over the Bunker. It was claimed that lessons had been learned. 

Clearly they hadn’t. 

Without good information the Council cannot make a good decision here – and they don’t have good information, or even seek it. It is unprofessional, laughable even that two planners could visit the balcony twice and have no record of this, no site notes and no measuring device.  

Entirely separately the Save Ecclesbourne Glen group has also raised a number of issues with Hastings Borough Council in advance of tomorrow night’s meeting. These concern measurements. In its submission to the council it asks councillors, before deciding the application, to:

  • Ask why the Planning Department has refused to measure any part of the building except for the depth of the balconies?
  • Ask why planning consider ‘visual inspection’ to be a substitute for actually measuring disputed dimensions?
  • Obtain evidence that the depth of balconies are two metres.
  • Obtain evidence from planning confirming the other dimensions of the balconies conform to the approved plans.
  • Obtain an explanation as to why the latest plans show the balconies to have a greater depth than the two metres that planning claim.
  • Obtain an explanation as to why no measurements or site visit notes were recorded during two enforcement site visits.
  • Ask why an independent remeasurement of the building has not been carried out?
  • Ask why a Planning Committee site visit has not been carried out?
  • Obtain an explanation as to why all of HBC ex-employee Mr Sawyer’s correspondence concerning balcony enforcement issues has been lost as claimed by HBC in response to an FOI request.

14 thoughts on “After years of controversy and argument will tomorrow’s planning committee settle ‘The Bunker’ issue once and for all?

  1. Difficult call as I’ve read misleading “reports” from Bernard McGinley before. His credibility and integrity is already in question. He has a habit of playing fast and loose with the facts.

    He’s extremely unprofessional while he clearly yearns for the status of an expert.

    Maybe if he refrained from prejudicially and repeatedly referring to the building in question as “The Bunker” he might better pull it off.

    Knowing how he works, it’s hard not to assume that each of his apparently damming indictments are missing an important piece of information.

    Is this supposed to be a balanced piece of journalism? I’m no big fan of HBC, but even with their legendary reputation for skulduggery and sleight of hand, it is hard to believe that there isn’t one single argument or a few awkward realities that have stood in the way of Bernards wishes or supported the actions of the developers so far.

    As with Bernard’s previous personal
    attacks, you can’t help thinking he’s leaving things out.

    It’s usually what’s not said that matters most.

    1. “you can’t help thinking he’s leaving things out” – as you are Oli Smith – leaving out any evidence of Bernard’s ‘misleading reports’ & ‘playing fast and loose with the facts’. You take issue with him referring to the building as ‘The Bunker’, – the owners have remained hazy over its purpose. They got planning permission for a holiday let, although the builders referred to it as ‘Len’s retirement home’. If you had bothered to follow this story you would be aware of the breathtaking arrogance of HBC over this whole sorry affair, the lack of transparency, lies, and the contempt with which they treat anyone questioning the veracity of their actions. Bernard has been at the forefront of revealing to the public the depths to which some of the council officers and councillors will stoop to protect their own.

    2. Oli Smith’s personal attack on Bernard McGinley is clear evidence that Bernard has something worthwhile to say. If you can’t attack the argument, attack the person who is making the argument. And on the article itself, it is perhaps the clearest and most objective I have yet read on this subject, the basis for a long thread of reasoned discussion one might hope.

    3. Oli Smith did you get out of bed on the wrong side today? What a vicious spiteful attack on a highly respected writer & knowledge of planning law. There have been so many stories about The Bunker yet you only slither out now to comment as an attack at the writer. Do you know the long history of this case? I am surprised that HIF’s Stuart Baillie published Smith’s comment to be honest. I am not on Facebook but I hear from my son that Smith is well known locally for ‘stirring things up’ on local social media & well known for his bitter grudge bearing commentaries. Best to ignore him here as others obviously do on Facebook.

    4. “and integrity is already in question. He has a habit of playing fast and loose with the facts.”

      What a laugh, where is Oli Smith’s evidence of this? I have been reading Bernard’s planning stories for many years now in HOT, HIP & HIF, they are always meticulously researched, detailed & beautifully written.

      Oli Smith I do not know of but he is clearly accusing others of behaviors that he is engaged in. This is a classic manipulation tactic.

      Does Smith work for HBC ? He sounds similar to that Cllr Andy Batsford fellow with his similar inaccurate ramblings.

    5. Stony silence from Smith, as he is unable to support his hot air statement with nothing remotely factual – If he doesn’t already work for HBC he should, he would fit right in there….

  2. Thank you Bernard for yet another excellent detailed report on the Rocklands case. You have invested great time over the many years to provide precise information of planning laws for this case & many others. This case shows that no-one in this borough is safe when it comes to planning decisions by HBC. Ignore this at your peril, it could be your neighbours that HBC allow to breach rules in turn reducing your enjoyment & value of your home. If they fail to protect the Country Park no home, street or community area is safe from dreadful decision making by the HBC planning department.

  3. It’s true I refer to the Bunker as the Bunker. So does everyone I know. So does Oli Smith.

    When he writes ‘ it is hard to believe that there isn’t one single argument or a few awkward realities . . ’, he comes up with no pro-Council arguments.

    As for ‘leaving things out’, Smith innuendo will have to do better than that. There seem to be lots of things he can’t help.

  4. Great to see Bernard’s work in HIF, good call Stuart!

    Thank you for this update on the mighty controversy that is Rocklands. HBC planning department appears a law unto itself. As Jack Moreau says no-one’s safe from their poor decision making. Anyone who has attempted to protect their home or community area from poor plans by developers know the whole process is a sham.

    I can only think that Rockland’s have brilliant & extremely expensive solicitors that know how to play amateur HBC. They just roll over time & time again to them.

    I recall HBC making it into Private Eye several years ago over this particular Country Park fiasco. Perhaps it would be timely to update them too?

  5. Olly Beak excels himself in offering no information at all to back up hic attack on a good writer and peristent seeker of truth in the face of HBC’s ‘sponge wall’ of obfuscation, evasion, accusation and avoidance of their most basic duty as public servants. Mr Beak should think before he squeaks.

  6. Great detailed summary by Bernard for HIF. It is scary that our Labour council turns a blind eye to the appalling toe curling practices by their planning department. I know so many people increasingly turned off voting Labour by this council, they are alienating themselves from long loyal Labour voters – What a disaster for them. They are making it very easy for any Greens, Lib Dems & Independents running in May (or whenever the election date is finally set for).

    As for hilarious Oli Smith, how attention seeking, he seems clueless as a toddler about this case! Or does he work for the council, even more hilarious?! He seems even less transparent on facts than HBC, nothing to back up any argument. Just bitchy playground sniping. All I can say Bernard is ‘carry on’ – you must be doing something VERY right to get someone working themselves up into a cheerleading pro-HBC, Trumpian style lather about this.

  7. ‘Clowns to the left of me! Jokers to the right!’

    A fascinating read, thank you HIF. Shame this comment thread was hijacked by a joker attention seeker. Let’s get back to important matters here –

    SEG are an admirable campaign group, amazing business like approach with incredible research & insight. The town should be proud of them & our council too if they had any sense. Instead our clown council treat them in the most appalling way.

    I will tune into tomorrow night’s planning committee meeting with great interest. The planners are well known for being a law unto themselves. As for the councillors will any dare speak up or will they stick to the script? I fear the latter.

    Labour HBC are opening the door wide for the Green Party to march into The Old Town Ward triumphant at the next local election.

  8. I would really like to know what mission this Oli Smith is on. I remember his name surfacing during the Pier saga trashing Bernard. One of these rather irritating individuals who I would be happy to duel with my Epee.
    Having known Bernard for some twelve years, I will say he is one of the most fastidious writers for detail and accuracy. And he has followed this fiasco and the Glen landslip from the start.
    As for the sobriquet “The Bunker,” this label stuck to it after I made reference in the early stages of it in emails years ago construction when it was just a concrete shell.
    It had all the image of a WW2 coastal anti- aircraft gun structure. And so the name stuck. Though it has some glass in it now, it is and will always be a blot on the landscape.
    What Oli needs to be finding out is how this object got to be built. He obviously knows nothing about the dubious history as to how it even got planning permission. That alone is an eye opener and makes you really wonder if there was some odd deal between HBC and Rocklands caravan site.
    This is has a Panarama or Dispatches documentary written all over it. Bernard has exposed the despicable way HBC has conducted itself and how they answerable to nobody….well except Rocklands I guess.

  9. An excellent article from Mr McGinley giving a very useful summary of the issues. This should be essential reading for members of the Planning Committee prior to them making a decision.

    SEG consider the handling of the application to be procedurally defective , the advice to members in the committee report is unsound and amounts to misdirection of the committee.

    This comment addresses just one aspect of the problem – Planning’s failure to properly measure the balconies and building.

    Balcony dimensions and the need for proper and independent measurement of the building are a major issue and many questions remain unanswered.

    Planning have confirmed that they have measured only the depth of balconies and no other measurements have been taken of the balconies or any other parts of the building.

    Planning have asserted that the depth of the balconies is 2 metres and conforms with the approved plans – however they have provided no evidence, stating that no measurements were recorded or site visit notes taken during two separate site visits.

    No other dimensions of the balconies have been measured. Instead Planning claim that they and the rest of the building have been “visually inspected” (i.e not measured) and conform to plans.

    It has never been explained how looking at a building without measuring it can verify that it conforms to the approved plans.

    We have requested an independent remeasurement, our question to full council was refused as “malicious” by the Chief Legal Officer. Questions from councillors to the Leader at full council remain unanswered after a month.

    We have requested a Planning Committee site visit so that members can verify the facts on the ground. No site visit has been arranged.

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