Proposed Submission Core Strategy

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12. RURAL AREAS

Scope and Issues

12.1 Rother is a district of predominantly rural character, and this chapter addresses those parts of the district that lie beyond the three main towns of Bexhill, Battle and Rye. This ‘rural’ area contains more than 40% of the district’s population and the most of its land area. It comprises both villages and intervening countryside, which each have distinct, yet inter-related, issues.

(2) 12.2 Rother district has a high number of villages and hamlets scattered across the High Weald and coastal belt. However, despite their often picturesque nature, the vitality of villages has tended to be undermined over time by a shortage of affordable housing, high levels of out-commuting, limited access to jobs and services, a decline in community services (particularly local shops) and limited public transport.

12.3 The surrounding countryside and undeveloped coast is highly valued for nature conservation, heritage, culture, and as a leisure resource for both residents and visitors. Agriculture has historically formed the core of the rural economy, but this has been challenged during the late twentieth century by changing practices and economies. This has resulted in more recent changes in the way the land is farmed and greater emphasis on environmental land management.

12.4 Social and economic change needs to benefit rural communities, to improve quality of life and maintain environmental quality.

Objectives

(1) 12.5 As outlined in Chapter 6, the Strategic Objective for the Rural Areas is:

‘To meet local needs and support vibrant and viable mixed communities in the rural areas, whilst giving particular attention to the social, economic, ecological and intrinsic value of the countryside.’

(3) 12.6 The following objectives further elaborate upon the Strategic Objective:

(4) Rural Areas Objectives:

  1. To emphasise the significant contribution of both villages and countryside to the character and culture of Rother;

  2. To recognise the individual distinctiveness of villages and to retain and enhance their rich cultural heritage;

  3. To support sustainable local employment opportunities and the economic viability of rural communities;

  4. To promote thriving rural communities with a high quality of life, a strong sense of place and broad active civic participation;

  5. To be demographically balanced and socially inclusive, particularly in terms of access to housing;

  6. To reduce both the need to travel and reliance on the private car, by promoting the use of public transport and supporting viable and accessible services and facilities within villages;

  7. To ensure rural communities have access to vital social, physical and green infrastructure, and realise ICT potential;

  8. to protect the open countryside and retain its intrinsic rural character for the benefit of residents and visitors;

  9. To respect and conserve the historic landscape mosaic, particularly in the High Weald AONB;

  10. To support agriculture and foster other land-based industries;

  11. To promote environmentally sensitive land management in a way that supports the diversity of natural habitats;

  12. To support sustainable tourism and recreation, including improved access to the countryside.

12.7 The objectives and policies for the rural areas overlap with to a large extent with the objectives and policies of thematic sections within this Core Strategy. Particular cross reference needs to be made to section 14 ‘Communities’ (in terms of health, recreation & communities issues), section 15 ‘Local Housing Needs’ (in terms of affordable housing, exception sites) section 16 ‘Economy’ (in terms of tourism and the rural economy), section 17 ‘Environment’ (in terms of environmental management and habitat protection and enhancement), and section 18 ‘Transport and Accessibility’ (in terms of rural transport schemes).

12.8 For ease of presentation, there are separate strategies for the villages and for the countryside, as set out below. When read together these set out the overall strategy framework for the rural areas.

Villages

(2) 12.9 The publication of Parish Local Action Plans (LAPs), as well as the Council’s Rural Settlements Study Background Paper 19, has provided evidence for the strategy by setting out the settlement patterns, and the social and economic contexts of individual settlements. This emphasis on local priorities has helped shape a distinctive agenda for each place. “Place-shaping” in this way is about promoting attractive, prosperous and vibrant villages where people want to live, work and do business. It is the responsibility of the relevant Councils and all local partners in the public, voluntary and the business sectors. Supporting vibrant and viable local village communities involves identifying and responding to community needs. Affordable housing is a particularly pressing community need in rural areas, but there are also demonstrable needs for improved accessibility, other local community facilities, as well as jobs and business provision.

(1) 12.10 The strategy has been developed in response to the national policy context, the Core Strategy consultation responses, and further liaison with key stakeholders such as the Parish Councils, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit, East Sussex County Council and the utilities bodies.

(1) 12.11 The main areas that are considered in villages are the function of settlements, housing, economy, tourism, services/community development, historic environment and accessibility.

Function of Rural Settlements

(2) 12.12 The Rural Settlements Study (RSS) contains more detailed investigations of the role, function and needs of some fifty rural villages across the district. As part of this exercise, the RSS also defined key ‘service centres’, as set out in figure 9.

(3) Figure 9: Rural Function of Settlements

Rural Service Centres

Robertsbridge

Ticehurst

Local Service Villages

Burwash

Hurst Green

Sedlescombe

Northiam

Westfield

Peasmarsh

Catsfield

Source: Rural Settlements Study

Rural Housing

Overall Quantity of Housing

(2) 12.13 The district-wide distribution of housing in Section 7 suggests that the villages should accommodate 950-1,000 additional dwellings over the period 2011-2028, which will necessitate new allocations in the area. Much of these dwellings have already been accounted for via existing commitments 20 so that the residual requirement for additional allocations is for some 308-358 dwellings 2011-2028 (as set out in Appendix 3).

(2) 12.14 It is notable that over the previous twenty year period, growth was significantly higher in rural areas (just under 2,300 dwellings were constructed in the 20 year period 1987-2007). This is an unsustainable trend, and the Sustainability Appraisal indicates that a lower level of growth is appropriate for the rural areas in future years, in order to respect valued landscape, heritage and biodiversity assets. As a consequence, the Core Strategy aims to direct growth towards larger urban centres over the future plan period, whilst facilitating a sufficient level of development to maintain rural needs.

Spatial Development Options

(2) 12.15 In addition to the district-wide spatial distribution options, various spatial distribution options for the villages were identified in the previous version of the Core Strategy (Consultation on Strategy Directions) and further elaborated upon within the Rural Settlements Study Background Paper. Following consultation, the preferred spatial development option for the villages remains ‘to primarily focus on the service centres’, whilst taking into account other factors. Other factors include local needs, accessibility, environmental factors, local opportunities and whether growth levels are proportionate to settlement size over the course of the plan period. Thus, the service led ‘rural function of settlements’ (see Table 11.1) is not the sole criteria governing the spatial pattern of development. Moreover, a village’s role can be fluid over time and some villages may still enjoy a reasonable level of facilities, although falling just outside the criteria to be defined a ‘service village.’

12.16 The preferred option has been chosen since it is mindful of existing settlement patterns, of where population growth may best be served by a full range of day-to-day businesses and facilities, and where they may in turn benefit economically from increased local market and patronage. It is felt that these factors best support the overall aims and objectives for the rural area.

12.17 Potential site opportunities in and around villages have been investigated initially in the Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), but it will be the role of the forthcoming Site Allocations DPD and/or Neighbourhood Plans to allocate sites for development. There are limited opportunities for sensitive infilling and redevelopment within development boundaries. New development will need to be sensitive of the need to protect and enhance the distinctive landscape character of the district, particularly the AONB, and should reflect the prevailing landscape quality and character.

Phasing

(4) 12.18 In terms of phasing, it is generally assumed that existing housing allocations (provided they have been demonstrated in the SHLAA and through Housing Monitoring as deliverable) and outstanding permissions will be developed in the earlier phases of the Plan. In villages which have seen higher levels of development in the first few years of the plan period or have existing commitments in the pipeline, any new and additional allocations will normally be phased in the latter part of the plan period to ensure a balanced rate of development. It is considered that this will be beneficial to the social cohesion of existing villages. The Council will also be mindful of the need to demonstrate a ‘5 year supply’ of housing.

Tenure and Mix

12.19 As background evidence such as the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) has identified, there is a need for both affordable housing and smaller dwellings in the rural areas. With cross-reference to the Housing section, these needs will be addressed by the respective requirements in rural areas for 40% affordable housing, and for 30% one or two bed properties. There is also provision for allocations wholly or substantially for affordable housing on small sites and in settlements of particular need.

Rural Economy

12.20 Supporting local employment opportunities is a key objective for the rural areas and one that is frequently identified in Parish Local Action Plans (LAPs). Business space serves to support the vitality of rural communities and provide accessible jobs.

(1) 12.21 The employment section of the Core Strategy outlines a number of policies that are of relevance to all areas of the district and rural areas in particular, such as the need to retain and make effective use of existing employment sites.

Overall Quantum of Employment Floorspace

(2) 12.22 The occupancy rate of business space in the rural areas is comparatively high. Evidence in the form of an Employment Strategy and Land Review (ELR) suggests the need for new employment floorspace within Rother’s rural areas. It is estimated that at least 10,000 sq m additional business floorspace is required in rural localities, preferably within or at least well related to existing village development boundaries.

Type of Employment Floorspace

12.23 The evidence shows that small workshops and office units need to be encouraged to support the rural economy. This is most likely to be achieved via sensitive expansion/intensification of existing sites or as part of new mixed use developments. The re-use or re-build of former agricultural buildings collectively provide an important source of business space in the area, and policies in the section on ‘Countryside’ will continue to facilitate this.

Location of New Employment Floorspace

(1) 12.24 The Rural Settlements Study contains further evidence on the relative need for employment within individual villages based upon a number of factors including unemployment, economic activity rate, ratio of in:out commuting, economic base and broadband speeds. Villages that appear to have a particular need for employment include the following:

(2) Figure 10: Villages Demonstrating a Particular Need for Employment Floorspace

Settlement

Broad Oak

Camber

Hurst Green

Icklesham Parish

Northiam

Peasmarsh

Robertsbridge

Sedlescombe

Ticehurst / Flimwell area

Westfield

12.25 The search for employment sites in the Site Allocations DPD and/or neighbourhood Plans will therefore particularly focus on these locations.

Mixed Use, ICT and Home Working

12.26 The advent of ICT and new ways of working has significantly helped reduce the potential negative impacts of employment uses upon neighbours and surroundings. High quality ICT / telecommunications and faster broadband speeds have the potential to increasingly mitigate the area’s relatively peripheral location by facilitating home working and high-value creative industries. Indeed, the 2001 census indicated very high levels of home working in the district, and the Council could look to further develop this.

(1) 12.27 Development of employment generating uses will therefore be encouraged alongside housing development on mixed use sites. Encouragement and support of home-working will also help support viable rural economies and is increasingly feasible, particularly within the several villages that enjoy relatively fast broadband, including most of the identified service villages21.

Rural Tourism

(9) 12.28 Tourism is an important component of the rural economy and benefits local services. Several Rother villages are popular tourist destinations due to the presence of cultural attractions, such as Bodiam Castle, Batemans at Burwash, the Kent and East Sussex Railway at Robertsbridge and the medieval town of Winchelsea. The aspiration to further develop the area as a tourist destination was an emergent theme in a number of Parish Local Action Plans. There is further scope to develop business and cultural tourism and “green tourism” particularly in the towns and the High Weald.

12.29 The coastal resort of Camber, with its golden sands, has long been a popular tourist destination for people from across the wider region and its summer population swells considerably. The eastern end has also become increasingly popular for extreme sports, particularly kite-surfing. Camber has potential to enhance its tourism offer and expand its role as a modern all year round leisure and tourist destination.

(1) 12.30 In all locations popular with visitors, there is a need to accommodate and manage tourist facilities and supporting services sensitively, in order to minimise impact upon the AONB, important habitats and wider countryside.

Rural Services and Community Development

(1) 12.31 Within villages, a decline in community services (particularly local shops) over the last few decades has resulted in ever more limited access for rural residents. The problems are exacerbated by limited public transport resulting in the unsustainable trend of residents driving further afield to services.

Village Shops and Public Houses

12.32 Survey evidence22 confirms that residents generally travel to larger towns for their main weekly shopping but that they will typically use smaller village stores for secondary ‘top-up’ shopping. However, a local village shop can be a lifeline for the less mobile and those without access to a car. The lack of shops for day to day purchases is a particular concern amongst rural residents, as is the declining numbers of post offices and public houses. The Council has made proactive efforts to address this via the ‘Rother Village Shop Forum’ and the ‘Village Shops and Post Offices Working Group’. The LDF continues to recognise the vital role of village shops and public houses in rural community life and protects them in policy VL2. New development will be prioritised in locations that support key local services.

Open Space, Recreation and Leisure

(2) 12.33 Many Parish Local Action Plans have identified a need for new leisure facilities, sports facilities and particularly a lack of activities for young people. Open Space needs have been set out in the Open Space, Sport & Recreation Study (2007) which suggests that in rural areas there is a shortage of children’s play areas and amenity green space. In the west of the district’s rural areas there is a more localised deficit of outdoor sports facilities and allotments and in the eastern rural parishes a slight shortage of parks and gardens. The study has also produced more localised recommendations for new and improved facilities. These recommendations have been summarised in the Rural Settlements Study as they apply on a village by village basis. The forthcoming Site Allocations DPD and/or Neighbourhood Plans will investigate opportunities to take these recommendations forward. Developer’s contributions will be sought alongside development to address identified community needs.

Village Halls and Community Resource Centres/Hubs

(1) 12.34 Village and community halls also have a pivotal role to play in village community life. Policy continues to ensure their protection and the provision of new, extended or refurbished community/educational facilities in appropriate locations to meet present and expected needs. The need for specific provision of new community halls at Etchingham and Flimwell has already been identified and resulted in land allocations. Peasmarsh Parish and Ashburnham & Penhurst Parish have also subsequently stated within their Local Action Plans an aspiration to build new village halls, whilst Crowhurst Parish Local Action Plan identifies a need to modernise and refurbish their village hall.

12.35 There are other innovative ways to enhance rural services and community development that may become increasingly important. Programmes such as the Rural Access to Services Programme (RASP) can help provide a ‘Community Resource Centre’ or single information point for village services. This programme was established by Action in Rural Sussex (AiRs) but relies to a large extent on local volunteers. A handful of ‘hubs’ or ‘information points’ have already been established in the district. If fully developed to their maximum potential, hubs have the potential to provide a focus for community activities, with a wide range of services (e.g.; photocopying, access to computers and meeting rooms, access to official documents, information about services, etc).

Historic Environment in the Rural Areas

12.36 The locally distinctive character of historic villages, buildings and settings will be protected and the design of any new development will be expected to include appropriate response to local context. This is important in villages generally, but particularly Conservation Areas where proposals for development and change will continue to be informed by Conservation Area Appraisals, including the preparation of new appraisals at Burwash, Northiam and Ticehurst. The later section within Chapter 17: Environment, on ‘Design Quality and Built Environment’ contains more detailed strategies and policies in this respect.

Rural Accessibility

(1) 12.37 It is recognised that there is considerable local feeling in villages regarding the need to improve public transport. The strategy will seek to facilitate travel by public transport, cycling and walking and acknowledges the adverse impact that traffic can have on rural villages and on the AONB. The service centre based strategy is a key part of this and the Council will continue to work closely with the County Council, bus service providers and the Voluntary Sector. Cross reference is made to Chapter 18: Transport.

(1) 12.38 The following policy for rural villages set out how those objectives will be achieved

(25) Policy RA1: Villages

The needs of the rural villages will be addressed by:

  1. Protection of the locally distinctive character of villages, historic buildings and settings, with the design of any new development being expected to include appropriate high quality response to local context and landscape;

  2. Encouragement of high quality sustainable economic growth by the identification of sites for local job opportunities, particularly focussing on the villages listed in Figure 10. This may be achieved by sensitive expansion of existing employment sites, or new sites, particularly for small workshops and office units. Opportunities for business development, including home-working, will also be sought alongside new housing as part of mixed-use allocations where appropriate;

  3. Ensuring thriving and viable rural communities, by retention of, and support for, local shops and public houses in villages;

  4. Support for community, recreational and educational facilities that provide social and community benefits to villages (including village/community halls and recreation areas). This may include provision of improvements to existing village halls or new halls, as well as support for further community resource centres / hubs, where appropriate;

  5. In order to meet housing needs and ensure the continued vitality of villages, the provision of 950-1,000 additional dwellings (comprising both existing commitments and new allocations) in villages over the Plan period 2011 to 2028. This will be located in accordance with Figure 12, subject to refinement in the light of further investigation via the Development and Site Allocations DPD and/or Neighbourhood Plans;

  6. Improved access to basic day-to-day services, particularly by public transport, walking and cycling. In order to facilitate this, new development will be sited in close proximity to key facilities and in locations accessible via a range of transport options.

(8) Figure 12: Distribution of Rural Housing Allocations

Settlement/Area All Completions 2006-2011
(01/04/2006 to 01/04/2011)
Commitments 2011 to 2028 (Allocations and Permissions) Proposed New Allocations
Core Strategy
Total New Housing 2011-2028
Requirement is 950-1,000

Low

High

Low

High

Robertsbridge

14

59

50

60

109

119

Ticehurst

79

10

35

55

45

65

Peasmarsh

3

6

20

40

26

46

Hurst Green

28

1

20

40

21

41

Broad Oak

10

12

10

40

22

52

Northiam

29

65

15

35

80

100

Netherfield

1

7

15

35

22

42

Catsfield

4

7

0

30

7

37

Sedlescombe

11

33

8

25

41

58

Camber

143

76

0

20

76

96

Westfield

15

75

0

20

75

95

Fairlight Cove

8

26

0

20

26

46

Etchingham

3

18

0

15

18

33

Burwash

29

16

0

15

16

31

Crowhurst

5

5

0

15

5

20

Iden

3

5

0

15

5

20

Staplecross

4

4

0

15

4

19

Beckley / Four Oaks

11

16

10

10

26

26

Flimwell

1

25

25

25

Udimore

0

8

8

8

Three Oaks

3

6

6

6

Winchelsea Beach

4

6

6

6

Burwash Common

2

5

5

5

Pett

12

4

4

4

Stonegate

1

4

4

4

Ashburnham

3

3

3

3

Dallington

0

3

3

3

Icklesham

2

3

3

3

Bodiam

3

2

2

2

Brede

3

2

2

2

Guestling Green

6

2

2

2

Pett Level

2

2

2

2

Woods Corner

2

2

2

2

Batchelors Bump

0

1

1

1

Brightling

1

1

1

1

Cackle Street

9

1

1

1

Ewhurst

0

1

1

1

Mountfield

0

1

1

1

Normans Bay

1

1

1

1

Burwash Weald

2

0

0

0

Fairlight

0

0

0

0

Friars Hill

0

0

0

0

Johns Cross

0

0

0

0

Westfield Lane

0

0

0

0

Winchelsea

0

0

0

0

Small Site Windfall Allowance in Years 10-15 (2023-2028)

118

TOTAL

457

524

183

505

825

1,147

Total Completions and Commitments = 981

Mid range = 344
(approx 308-358 required)

Mid range identified is 986

Note: Figures don't include three exception sites at advanced stages (Brede - 12, Pett - 10 and Ewhurst - 8).

Note: Villages in bold text denote a development boundary.

Countryside

12.39 As a predominantly rural district, the countryside of Rother district is a defining characteristic. The district’s countryside is a productive landscape and the prime function of the countryside is agriculture and the production of food; with some 70% of the area of Rother district being classed as farmed land by DEFRA 23. Indeed of the 35,500 farmed hectares in the district, some 60% is grass/pasture, with 25% crops and 10% woodland 24.

12.40 The countryside, including the undeveloped coast, also has high intrinsic amenity value, and is an important resource for nature conservation, leisure and tourism.

(1) 12.41 The term ‘countryside’ is used here for those areas outside of villages and includes not only farmland and woodland but also scattered development outside the main confines of villages.

12.42 The physical nature of the countryside today reflects both the diverse underlying geology and soils, and the human influences that have taken place upon it over a long period of time, in particular, agricultural practices and communication routes. In the High Weald, the land was traditionally used for mixed farming, pastoral and arable with the woodland being a managed and valued resource, whilst on the low-lying, reclaimed marshes the emphasis was on pasture. Much of the countryside we see today is a legacy from previous uses, resulting in historic landscape patterns which give the area its special qualities and character.

12.43 The importance of Rother district’s countryside in terms of its high quality landscape character and high ecological value is described in more detail in the Chapter 16 ‘Environment’. Features which contribute positively to the landscape character of the district, in particular of the High Weald AONB, include field patterns, native-species hedgerows and ancient woodland, green lanes, and watercourses, along with the undeveloped coastal character of sandstone cliffs separated by deep glens around Fairlight and Pett, and the low-lying wetland levels leading to drifts of coastal shingle around Pevensey and Rye. Such features should be retained and preserved.

12.44 Approximately 10% of the population of Rother live in the countryside outside of the villages and towns, with only 1.2% of the Rother’s population currently being employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. However, the countryside also provides employment opportunities through rural business units and workshops.

12.45 The strategy for the Countryside seeks to balance the many diverse pressures and competing demands on the countryside, whilst ensuring the maintenance of its farming capacity and of its attractive landscape character, to create a living, working countryside.

(12) Policy RA2: General Strategy for the Countryside

The overarching strategy for the Countryside is to:

  1. maintain the farming capacity of the district, and support the agricultural industry, including diversification within farming;

  2. encourage agricultural practices, land-based economic activities and woodland management, and related agri-environmental schemes, that reinforce local distinctiveness, landscape character and ecology;

  3. strictly limit new development to that which supports local agricultural, economic or tourism needs and maintains or improves the rural character;

  4. retain traditional historic farm buildings by continued agricultural use or by appropriate re-use, in accordance with Policy RA4;

  5. support rural employment opportunities in keeping with rural character and compatible with maintaining farming capacity;

  6. support enjoyment of the countryside and coast through improving access and supporting recreational and leisure facilities that cannot reasonably be located within development boundaries, such as equestrian facilities, compatible with the rural character of the area;

  7. support tourism facilities, including touring caravan and camp sites, which respond to identified local needs and are of a scale and location in keeping with the rural character of the countryside; and

  8. generally conserving the intrinsic value, locally distinctive rural character, landscape features, built heritage, and the natural and ecological resources of the countryside.

12.46 In applying this policy, it is important that the other parts of the Core Strategy are also referred to, in particular the opening sections of this chapter dealing with the introduction to rural areas and the villages (which deals with key services such as employment areas, ICT & broadband infrastructure, rural tourism, rural communities and services such as village shops, pubs, village halls, recreation & leisure, historic environment and accessibility). Cross-reference also needs to be made to the thematic chapters such as 14. Housing, 15. Economy and 16. Environment. Further consideration is given to development in the countryside, and specifically to the reuse of traditional farm buildings, in the following sections.

Development in the Countryside

12.47 Farming and woodland management are the predominant land uses in the district’s countryside. The agricultural land is of mixed quality; mostly grade 3, but with significant areas of higher quality grade 2 towards the east of the district along the Brede Valley and East Guldeford Level.

12.48 Agricultural production of food and by-products is a key economic function of the countryside; the support of British farming and sustainable food production is one of the three key priorities set out in DEFRA’s Business Plan 25, and a number of national initiatives are in place to support this objective26.

12.49 Changes in agricultural practices during the 20th century saw a decline in traditional land and woodland management, with a consequent decline in skills in environmentally sensitive land management. Maintaining and developing such skills, and practices, offers opportunities for local employment and has a vital part to play in maintaining the district’s distinct landscape character, especially in the High Weald.

12.50 Meanwhile the shift towards more sensitive environmental land management over the previous 10 – 20 years has helped support the farming industry and the conservation of landscape features and ecology. DEFRA’s programme of agri-environmental schemes, through a structured programme of payments to farmers, remains an important way of ensuring effective land management to protect and enhance the environment and wildlife in the district.

12.51 Modern farming practices often require new agricultural buildings to meet specific needs. To ensure viable farming industries, these will be supported in principle, though whilst the size and mass of such buildings is inevitably dictated by their function, care is still needed in their siting, design and materials, to minimise the visual impact on the landscape character of the countryside.

12.52 Development pressures in the countryside arise from a number of demands; agricultural, economic/tourism, recreational, and residential. PPS 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas & PPS 4: Planning for Sustainable Growth sets out the national policy presumption to strictly control new development, in terms of house building and economic development in the countryside.

12.53 However, changing farming needs and development economics have meant that many former farm buildings, historic and modern, have become available for conversion and re-use. To support the rural economy in accordance with PPS4: Planning for Sustainable Growth, the policy presumption for such conversions is for uses which contribute to the local farming and rural economy, either by direct employment or by encouraging visitor spend. Such uses include workshops, farm shops or tourist facilities, and other employment uses such as offices. Buildings suitable for conversion should be generally in keeping with the rural character of the area in terms of scale, siting and appearance, be of permanent and substantial construction, and be capable of conversion without major or substantial reconstruction.

12.54 Occasionally, the replacement of such buildings for employment uses might be preferable to conversion where this would result in a development which is more acceptable in terms of landscape impact and visual appearance.

12.55 The range of activity operating within the district’s countryside is wide; including food production, equestrianism, vineyards, horticulture, tourism and leisure, and a broad range of business activities. There is often high interdependency and mutual benefit between these industries. For example, a number of farmers markets and farm shops operate within the district, producing and supplying local foods and associated products. Vineyards, local food markets and plant nurseries help attract tourists into the district, while livery yards also offer rural employment opportunities, and help support wider industries such as vets, animal foodstuffs and also equestrian activities and events.

(2) 12.56 Tourism and recreation activities, such as holiday caravan and chalet developments, including the current trends for yurts and other forms of camping, equestrian facilities, and other recreational activities such as fishing, can add to the enjoyment and economic vitality of the district’s countryside and rural communities, but can also lead to development and land-use pressures. For caravan and camping sites, the emphasis will be on improving the amenities of existing sites to maintain and enhance their tourism value, though consideration will be given to new small-scale provision to respond to modern market expectations, recognising environmental factors.

12.57 To protect the undeveloped and rural landscape of the countryside, new residential development, as for other forms of development in the countryside, must be limited to that which cannot be located in an urban area, specifically in limited circumstances, as set out in Annex A of PPS7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas, and which positively contributes to maintaining the landscape heritage and character of the area.

12.58 The approach to the conversion and re-use of traditional historic farm buildings for residential use is discussed in the following section, and in Policy RA4. The conversion to residential use of modern or non-traditional farm buildings (normally considered to be post 1880) or of farm buildings requiring substantial or speculative reconstruction, would not serve to ensure the retention of features of acknowledged historic importance and value in landscape character. Therefore, this would not be an acceptable form of development in the countryside.

12.59 Changes to existing dwellings, be they extensions to dwellings, extensions to domestic curtilages into countryside, alterations to previously converted traditional former agricultural dwellings, ancillary works such as fences, walls and gates, or new outbuildings within curtilages, can, cumulatively, have a significant impact on the character of the countryside. It is therefore important to ensure that such proposals do not suburbanise the countryside, compromise the character, integrity or form of distinctive building typologies, nor compromise their contribution to the landscape character.

(1) 12.60 Similarly, replacement dwellings should not increase the visual prominence of the building in the countryside nor detract from the rural landscape character and local context of the area, and should take every opportunity to improve any existing adverse landscape impact.

(8) Policy RA3: Development in the Countryside

Proposals for development in the countryside will be determined on the basis of:

  1. supporting new agricultural buildings and other non-domestic buildings demonstrably needed to support farming, woodland and other land-based industries that are of appropriate size, siting and design and materials and directly related to the enterprise;

  2. supporting suitable employment and tourism opportunities in the countryside, including by the conversion, for employment use, of farm buildings generally in keeping with the rural character, and by the sensitive, normally small-scale growth of existing business sites and premises 27;

  3. allowing the creation of new dwellings in extremely limited circumstances, including:

    1. agricultural dwellings in accordance with PPS7 Annex A;

    2. the conversion of traditional historic farm buildings in accordance with Policy RA4;

    3. the one-to-one replacement of an existing dwelling of similar landscape impact; or

    4. as a ‘rural exception site’ to meet an identified local affordable housing need as elaborated upon in Chapter 15 – Local Housing Needs;

  4. ensuring that extensions to existing buildings and their residential curtilages, and other ancillary development such as outbuildings, fences, enclosures, lighting and signage, would maintain and not compromise the character of the countryside and landscape;

  5. ensuring that all development in the countryside is of an appropriate scale, will not adversely impact on the on the landscape character or natural resources of the countryside and, wherever practicable, support sensitive land management.

Historic Farm Buildings

12.61 Rother’s countryside has a highly distinctive and important architectural character by way of settlement pattern and building typologies. The historic hamlets and farmsteads of the High Weald create a distinct and picturesque landscape, with the rolling pastureland and small ancient woodlands of the countryside interspersed with the rich clay-tiled roofs of medieval houses, barns and oasts. Building typologies reflect locally distinct historic agricultural practices, for example the distinctive brick roundels of the hop industry’s oast-houses, fine timber-framed barns and modest brick cowsheds and outbuildings.

12.62 Traditional historic farm buildings are a vital element in defining the distinctive character of the district’s countryside, as well as being a valuable economic resource. They have cultural and archaeological value, not just in their fabric, but also their location and setting, to help our understanding of the historical development of farming in the district. Traditional historic farm buildings are generally considered to be those dating from pre 1880, though there may be other pre-war buildings, either late Victorian or Edwardian that are of interest in a farmstead or landscape context and may be worthy of retention.

12.63 English Heritage have analysed the character of rural settlement and farming in the South East, and particularly in the High Weald, within which the majority of the district’s countryside falls, in their Farmstead Character Statement 28. This highlights the historic typical small farm sizes, leading to small ‘farmsteads’ of mostly dispersed cluster plans or loose courtyards, and typically consisting of just the farmhouse, one large multi-purpose barn, and perhaps an oasthouse or a small open-fronted outbuilding 29.

12.64 In accordance with English Heritage advice in the document ‘Living Buildings in a Living Landscape: finding a future for traditional Farm Buildings’, the priority uses for traditional agricultural buildings are to retain such buildings in continued farming-related uses, and secondly to convert for employment uses, including tourism.

(2) 12.65 Where such conversions are not suitable for the particular nature or location of the buildings, residential conversions will be considered. In order to help meet the local housing need, priority for residential conversions will be as affordable housing for people with a local connection by living or working in the area, which may include local key workers30. This will operate in a similar way to the ‘Exception Sites’ policy in the Housing chapter, via liaison with the Council’s Housing Division and the relevant Registered Providers. Where there is no household with a local connection in need of affordable housing, or where a scheme is otherwise not feasible, open market housing will be considered.

12.66 Different uses of a traditional farm building will inevitably have different physical impacts on the building, its setting and legibility; this is also reflected in the hierarchical approach to conversion uses described above. Continued farm use, workshop or light industrial uses are likely to require only limited alterations to building fabric and to the setting of buildings. In contrast, residential use usually brings greater pressure for internal subdivision of spaces, new openings, curtilage division and domestication which can greatly impact on the significance of these farm buildings and their appearance in the landscape.

12.67 It is important that in any conversion or re-use proposal, the distinctive character of traditional agricultural buildings; their farmstead and wider landscape setting, external appearance, internal character and features, be retained. Domestication of the building or its setting by means of inappropriate alterations, new development, access arrangements or boundary treatments should be avoided.

12.68 Specific advice in this respect is given in the English Heritage publication ‘The Conversion of Traditional Farm Buildings: A Guide to Good Practice31’ and this should be interpreted alongside the specific advice given in the Farmstead Character Statement with regard to local building typologies and features. Of particular importance at a local level is maintaining the internal spatial qualities of timber framed barns, the elevational character of their cart-bay entrances, and the uninterrupted brick walling of oasthouse roundels.

12.69 Traditional farm buildings that have already been converted are also vulnerable to inappropriate alteration or development, for example extensions, new openings, garages, sheds and other outbuildings, boundary treatments and hard-surfacing, that would have an adverse impact on the intrinsic character of the building itself, or on the rural character of its countryside setting. Even a well-designed extension will usually undermine the form of, for example, a barn or oasthouse as an example of a particular building typology.

(8) Policy RA4: Traditional Historic Farm Buildings

Traditional historic farm buildings will be retained in effective and appropriate use, and proposals for their reuse and/or subsequent alteration should:

  1. Take a hierarchical approach for re-uses as follows:

    1. The priority use for traditional farm buildings is to remain in farm-associated use, or farm-related business purposes;

    2. Where there is a demonstrable lack of need for such uses, consideration will be given to non-agricultural commercial uses, including workshops, office use or tourism uses;

    3. Where such uses are not suitable, due to adverse impacts on amenity or rural landscape character, such buildings will be considered for residential conversion for affordable housing for those with a local housing need, including local key workers. Open market residential conversions will only be considered where no such local housing need is found, or where no Registered Provider is willing to take on the scheme;

  2. Demonstrate that they are based on a sound and thorough understanding of the significance of the building and its setting, including in terms of history, layout, use, local relevance, fabric and archaeology;

  3. Ensure retention of the building’s legibility, form (as an example of a specific building typology), historic fabric and setting, and, through design, maintain the agricultural character and the contribution the building and its surroundings make to the wider rural landscape and countryside character;

  4. Ensure proper protection of existing wildlife and habitats.


19 The Rural Settlements Study (RSS) Background Paper investigated and appraised over 40 villages across the District, including all of those with Local Plan defined development boundaries as well as many others. The RSS included all settlements with a population of at least 100, as well as some with smaller populations which benefitted from the presence of a key service. The RSS has helped inform the Core Strategy and define villages in terms of their role, appropriateness of development boundary and need/suitability for development 20 Including unimplemented planning permissions and Local Plan allocations that are still considered developable 21 As of May 2011, Robertsbridge, Ticehurst, Northiam, Peasmarsh, Hurst Green and Burwash all have broadband speeds in excess of 5Mb per second, which is the highest of four speed categories as defined by ESCC 22 The Rother District Wide Shopping Assessment (2008) 23 Agricultural & Horticultural Survey of England, June 2007, DEFRA 24 Agricultural & Horticultural Survey of England, June 2007, DEFRA 25 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Business Plan 2011-2015, November 2010 26 including those supported by the Prince’s Countryside Fund and the NFU ‘Why Farming Matters’ campaign 27 Conversion, replacement and extension of existing sites and premises all refer in this sense to buildings generally in keeping with the rural character of the area in terms of scale, siting and appearance, of permanent and substantial construction, and be capable of conversion without major or substantial reconstruction 28 Historic Farmsteads Preliminary Character Statement: South East Region English Heritage & The Countryside Agency 2006 29 Further research available in ‘Farm Buildings of the Weald 1450-1750’ David and Barbara Martin Heritage Marketing &Publications Ltd 2006 30 The Council will continue to develop categories of local designation for key-workers, through its Housing Allocation Policy, with the intention that this will include land-based workers 31 The Conversion of Traditional Farm Buildings: A Guide to Good Practice English Heritage 2006
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