Cuckfield residents’ hopes of saving a much-loved play meadow in the village were quashed on Thursday when the council granted planning permission for a house to be built on the land.
But the residents, who have been involved in a five-year battle with the council over the land in Courtmead Road, have vowed to fight on.
Full planning permission was granted for a detached house to be built on the land to the west of Newbury. The northern half of the site falls within the Cuckfield Conservation Ara (CCA).
Flis Irving, who has spearheaded the villagers’ fight, said: “The battle continues over something which should never have been a battle.
“You just feel that despite being an individual against a council, that justice will prevail in the end, so if you keep fighting surely in the end somebody will say enough is enough, and they will be made to see sense. We are determined to carry on the fight.”
Mid Sussex District Council was granted planning consent to build a house on the parcel of land in 2013. The land was padlocked to prevent any public access to it. It has remained padlocked with no public access since this date.
The council rejected a community bid of more than £100,000 to buy back the land in 2014. Ms Irving, went on to successfully challenge the planning permission in the High Court, but in April 2015, the council again granted itself permission to sell the land. Ms Irving tried to buy back the land herself last year, but her bid was rejected.
A new application for the house was submitted by the council and was due to be heard in December last year, but was deferred ‘to allow additional information to be added to the committee report’ after planning officers were made aware of a request to the county council that sought to amend the definitive map and record a public footpath through the site.
Will McNamee has lived in the village all of his life. On Thursday he urged the council to do the ‘right thing and refuse the application’.
He said: "When I was growing up my friends and I played in the play meadow. We walked through it from Courtmead Road to Newbury Lane as part of the network of local paths.
"I used it again in the 1970s and 1980s to get to the allotments and saw lots of kids playing there.
"This footpath was also used by locals to access the swimming pool and golf course that was there at the time. I know it was still used by local people, including many local children, until 2013 when you locked the gate.
"If you take the decision tonight to grant the permission, you take a decision to ruin a unique piece of land, in a beautiful setting and with fabulous views of the South Downs. You won’t replace it – and, if you tried at a later date, you couldn’t afford it. It will be gone forever as public open space.
"This is not good for the environment, it is not good for the local people, and it wouldn’t be happening if anyone else owned it.
"You have spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money defending a morally indefensible position for a marginal addition to the council’s coffers.
"You weren’t elected to try your hand at property development, though, you are here primarily to look out for the needs of local people. That is why people voted for you.
"So, I am asking you to do the right thing for the first time since 2013 in relation to the play meadow - and refuse the application."
Speaking after the planning meeting, Mr McNamee said the decision from the council was a 'shame'. “It is a nice piece of land, where children used to play – views to the downs are now going to be lost and I think it is a shame,” he said.
Planners insisted the scheme was 'acceptable' in the meeting and said 'it would have no adverse impact on the conservation area'.
Councillor Colin Trumble (Con, Hurstpierpoint and Downs) reassured residents in the meeting that there was no ‘hidden agenda’.
He added: “There is a lot of emotion and passion and I fully understand, but we don’t deal with passion, this has to be viewed in light of the plan that we have.
"If you look at it and take all of that passion out and look at it in terms of the planning policies, it is very difficult to argue that this cannot be accepted.
“I know that it is not what you want to hear but I cannot see any other way – it fits with the policies.”
The application was unanimously agreed by councillors.