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Out and About

I hope that members are enjoying the warm summer weather which enables one to explore our historic town. Rye has received plenty of good publicity recently, notably in Which? magazine considering it the seventh out of a hundred top seaside destination even though the sea retreated long ago.

However there are a number of issues that are causing concern to people in the town and I will mention a few here in no particular order.

Lighting in the town is the responsibility of East Sussex Council and hope that we can persuade East Sussex that given the closeness of the lights to residential buildings in the narrow streets less bright units can be installed and we are consulting with the lighting engineers. This picture quite graphically indicates the problem

Readers of Rye News will have noticed that the Methodist Church in Church Square is for sale and there is already a group of concerned local residents hoping that the building can be retained for community use.

Planning permission was recently refused to convert the baptist chapel in Military Road to housing so there is a precedent. One of the problems here is that the maintenance costs of the building together with a dwindling congregation has made it uneconomic as a Church. A lack of parking and the character of the area might preclude some commercial uses so a local community facility seems the desired option.

The Government is introducing major planning reforms, some of which are highly controversial as they could lead to more housing on green field sites and make it easier to push through housing developments. There is concern that local wishes as expressed in the Rye Neighbourhood Plan might be ignored, but on the other hand there is undoubtedly a dire shortage of housing at an affordable price for local people. One suggestion has been the conversion of commercial property such as High Street bans into residential units, however would this not speed up the decline of High Streets. There are numerous towns which used to have many shops but which are now mostly housing, Sandwich is an example I visited recently. In todays Guardian there is an interesting editorial on this subject:

"One of the pleasures of post-lock down life has been the chance to go back to familiar businesses and high street shops, putting some much-needed cash into tills. Though often hit by the long-term shift to online retail – which the pandemic, of course, accelerated – such places continue to knit the social fabric together in vital ways. But despite all the local goodwill and the revival of trade, for some much-loved ports of call it may be a case of too little, too late. According to a review published this month, Britain’s high streets are threatened by a “tsunami of closures”, thanks to the debt taken on by small business owners during the past year-and-a-half.

The report concludes that “urgent support is required” if a trail of destruction is not to unfold, when loans are called in and tax breaks end. Unfortunately, the government is about to make matters worse, not better. Next week, Whitehall plans to unleash a developers’ free-for-all that threatens to irrevocably change the character and texture of town centers and high streets across the country.

From 1 August, changed rules on commercial-to-residential conversions will allow landlords and developers to swiftly turn vacant shops and businesses into houses and flats. This deregulatory move will make it far more difficult for local authorities to plan for the precarious post-Covid future of town centers, and for communities to hold them to account. In an exasperated submission to the housing, communities and local government committee, London councils warned MPs of “a disruptive free-for-all, with short-term financial considerations deciding the future use of vacant high street buildings, damaging the fabric and coherence of our town centers”. As the value of property continues to boom, particularly in the south, there are insidious implications for those outlets managing to cling on. The Association of Town and City Management told the MPs that the new rules could, in effect, “create a licence for the eviction of businesses in favour of residential”.

The government claims that commercial-to-residential conversions can allow developers to respond to changing times. It is also suggested that an influx of new locals will boost footfall for those businesses able to withstand the triple whammy of online retail, Covid debt and Whitehall deregulation. The likelier dynamic, in too many places, is terminal decline as high streets and urban hubs are “pepper-potted” with residential property, losing their identity and ceasing to attract people in viable numbers.

Handing virtual carte blanche to developers to replace commercial premises with residential property undermines strategic thinking and empowers the market at the expense of local communities."

Our Newsletter was distributed last month, my thanks to members who helped out and Andy Stuart who organised it. You can download a copy from this web site. One of the items in the Newsletter mentioned the Landgate and I can report that a meeting of Rother Councillors, Historic England and Rye representatives agreed that regular maintenance would commence shortly while the option to install a roof would be further studied. It was agreed that the netting is not satisfactory and is cruel to bird life. There is money available for basic maintenance but not much more however the group will meet regularly and seek to bring in new sources of funding and expertise.

Finally to end on a happy note I hope as many as possible can attend the Garden Party on August 22 which will be the first opportunity in months for members to meet up and discuss all the issues that are facing the town. The Garden Party poster features artwork by local artist, Louis Turpin. There will be the usual excellent scones, teas and coffees.

At the Garden Party we plan to present our 2021 Conservation Society Awards. Please read more under Awards for details of our winning choices.

David Bookless


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