2. CONTEXT AND VISION

2.1.

Main issues

The state of Rother District, in economic, social and environmental terms, and the expected changes over the next 10 years provide the essential context for identifying the main issues to be addressed.

2.2.

Issues are not identical across the District, but reflect local variations in demographic, economic and other characteristics, notably between urban and rural areas.

2.3.

Rother District covers 51,140 hectares and is largely rural in character, although Bexhillon-Sea in the south-west, accounts for nearly a half of the total population of 86,000. The other towns, Battle and Rye, are both considerably smaller.

Figure 2 Population Structure of Rother District compared to the UK average

 

2.4.

The age profile differs from that of the country as a whole in that the proportion of elderly people is significantly higher, while the proportion of younger, working age population is much lower. This has social, economic and infrastructure implications. 

2.5.

Demographic projections prepared by East Sussex County Council, albeit before the results of the 2001 Census were known, suggest a population increase of 6.6% between 2001 and 2011. Taking the 2001 Census population as the base, this equates to some 5,640 additional people.

2.6.

Housing is a major issue in that providing for the significant level of housing development required by the Structure Plan – some 2,800 further dwellings between 2003 and 2011 – will necessitate new land releases. While the Council will look first at “brownfield” and other urban land, it will inevitably require developing beyond existing planning boundaries. The affordability of housing is also a key issue. High housing costs, especially when considered in relation to average earnings, mean that many people cannot afford to buy on the open market.

2.7.

Low average earnings combine with a service-oriented industrial structure, low levels of commercial investment, higher than average unemployment and a small business base to create a real need for new investment and a broader range of job opportunities. This is recognised by Hastings and Bexhill being identified as a ‘Priority Area for Economic Regeneration’ within the south-east region and by the recent establishment of the Hastings and Bexhill Task Force.

2.8.

There is a widespread view, particularly within the business community, that poor transport communications are a significant constraint on improving employment opportunities. Accessibility to other parts of the south-east and to other regions is also important in terms of travel for social, leisure and tourism purposes. However, only limited improvements to road and rail travel along the south coast are anticipated, although there are current draft proposals for improvements to the A21.

2.9.

While the planning of strategic transport investment is outside the scope of the Plan, it must consider the implications of anticipated transport provision for regeneration and development, as well as for securing more sustainable travel patterns.

Figure 3 Main Settlements and Transport Network

 

2.10.

Accommodating new development presents real environmental challenges in Rother. The District enjoys high quality built and natural environments. Of particular significance is the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which embraces over 80% of the District, and represents a landscape of national importance. The countryside setting of settlements is generally sensitive to development pressures. There are also extensive areas of international and national, as well as local, nature conservation importance. The risk of flooding is a further factor when considering the environmental implications of development.

Figure 4. Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Ancient Woodland

 

2.11.

Development within settlements can also raise amenity and infrastructure issues. In particular, development needs to respect the established character of towns and villages, the special qualities of some being recognised by Conservation Area designation.

2.12.

Relationship to the emerging community strategy

Many local organisations have come together to promote the well-being of the District through the formation of a ‘Local Strategic Partnership’ whose mission is: ‘to develop and implement a Community Strategy for the Rother area that ensures sustainable improvements in the economic, social and environmental well-being of Rother communities.’

2.13.

A ‘Vision for the Rother area’ has been defined. This is that:

‘Rother will be a place where everyone can live together sustainably and residents are properly informed, consulted and involved as part of an effective local partnership that recognises and addresses the needs of everyone in our community.’

2.14.

Following community consultation, the Local Strategic Partnership has also established nine priority areas. These are:

  • Community safety issues and more visible/targeted policing
  • Waste and recycling issues
  • Affordable/decent quality housing
  • Enhanced leisure and recreation facilities
  • Transport improvements
  • Local job creation, support to business
  • Access and choice in education
  • Enhanced services for young people
  • Tackling health inequalities and reduced health care waiting times
2.15.

While the Community Strategy is not yet in its final form (due to be approved in early 2004), it is considered that the Local Plan should be guided by the draft Community Strategy vision, and elaborate upon the meaning of “live together sustainably”, with due regard to the role of the Plan in managing development and change. Similarly, Local Plan aims should embrace the Community Strategy’s emerging priorities where these have land use and spatial implications.

2.16.

Corporate Plan and strategies

The preparation of the Local Plan can be seen as cutting across all the Council’s corporate aims, namely:

  • To lead and engage the community
  • To provide a safe and healthy District
  • To provide opportunities to meet the social, leisure and cultural needs of the community
  • To provide for economic growth and employment
  • To protect and enhance the built and natural environment
2.17.

There are other corporate strategies with which the Local Plan should also integrate. These include the Housing Strategy, Economic Development Strategy, Local Agenda 21 Strategy and the Crime and Disorder Strategy produced by the Rother Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership.

2.18.

Vision and aims

The Plan’s vision describes what the Council is seeking to achieve through its policies for development and change. In effect, the Plan represents the physical and spatial expression of the Community Strategy and other corporate strategies insofar as they have land use implications. 

2.19.

Vision Statement

To provide a high quality of life based on vibrant and inclusive communities, access to a wide range of jobs and respect for the built and natural environment.

Development and change should contribute to this vision, and thereby to the Community Strategy, in a positive and sustainable manner, properly supported by the necessary infrastructure, services and community facilities.

2.20.

“Quality of life” is taken to embrace the net effect of the interplay of economic, social and environmental factors affecting people’s experience of the area. It acknowledges that undue attention on one aspect can be detrimental overall, such as if economic development objectives were pursued irrespective of their environmental consequences, or vice versa. Where a balance has to be struck between conflicting aims, this should be guided by the overall impact on the quality of life in the area. There is an equity dimension in that the vision is for improving the quality of life for all the communities and all sections of the community in Rother District.

2.21.

The emphasis on positive change and sustainable development is deliberate. It recognises that change is inevitable, but needs to be managed to best meet the needs of local people, both now and in the future. “Sustainability” is a term that has a long-term environmental perspective and “sustainable development” recognises and accepts that land use decisions made now should promote more efficient patterns of activity and movement, as well as the conservation of finite natural resources.

2.22.

Development can bring positive change by helping to meet local housing needs, improving transport provision, increasing the range of job opportunities, supporting community facilities and making the environment safer. At the same time, planning policies must ensure that legitimate concerns, such as the erosion of local character, strain on services, insensitivity of design and impact on people’s amenities, are overcome. These are major challenges in plan-making facing the Council.

2.23.

The following aims are compatible with the priority areas being developed through the Community Strategy. Community safety is an aspect of local amenities, while recreation, education, health and other youth services are integral to Aim 2.

Aim 1    To ensure that the environment is conserved and enhanced and that new development contributes to local character, cultural identity and amenities

Aim 2     To ensure that there is adequate infrastructure and services to support thriving communities and facilitate new development

Aim 3     To meet housing needs in the most sustainable manner, with particular regard to affordability and quality of housing

Aim 4     To secure a more prosperous and diverse economy

Aim 5     To promote a safe, efficient and sustainable transport system

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