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Burgess Hill Town Council Come Under Scathing Criticism For Nature Reserve Proposal

28th April 2024 | By Peter Chapman

A lively meeting saw residents and some councillors turn on Burgess Hill Town Council's leadership over a controversial agenda item to consider a development proposal on Batchelors Farm Nature Reserve.

An approach from the Unlost Den Company had been received by the council for the long-term use of a 5x5m piece of land at Batchelors Farm.  It was placed on the agenda for the Customer Services Key Area Group and discussed on Thursday 4th April 2024.

During the meeting, Deputy Leader Peter Williams said
‘I’m well aware that’s it’s been very, very contentious.’ 

Peter went on to explain the ‘facts’ claiming that it was an unsolicited sales-pitch from the company back in December which could have resulted in the council receiving an annual income of approximately £2k for a horse box office and a toilet shed to be installed near the community orchard overlooked by the water tower.  “It was their proposal; it was not the council’s as this is our precious land-which we own.” he said.

councillor peter williams burgess hill

Peter explained that the content on the public agenda was nearly word-for-word the company’s sales pitch.’    ‘We refute any suggestion whatsoever that this is the council’s way of secretly starting to develop that site.  It was brought to the council’s agenda, purely for transparency and for the Key Area Group to note."

Cllr Williams’ claim that this item was ‘for noting’ differs to the council agenda, which listed this item ‘For Consideration’ and set out the possible risks if the council were to pursue the opportunity.

Additionally, the report for the item did not differentiate the parts that were the ‘sales pitch’ and which parts were the words of the council officer.  To expect the public to have worked all this out is a bit of a stretch!

councillor Robert Eggleston Mid Sussex District Council Leader

One councillor who wasn’t standing for this nonsense was Robert Eggleston (Meeds and Hammonds Ward) his view was that an unsolicited sales pitch should never have made the agenda. 

"What disappoints me is the report that is presented made no comment on the planning implications. Any temporary structure that we’d be putting on land for more than 28 days requires planning permission for change of use. 

“The District Plan quite clearly states that Batchelors Farm will not be developed. It baffles me, I have to say, that it’s got this far. We should now do the right and proper thing and put it in the recycle bin.”

Cllr Simon Hicks said: “Hopefully this will be a learning exercise in that we get well thought-out reports that are based on council policy.”

CEO Steve Cridland stated: “I don’t recall that the Deputy Leader (Peter Williams) banned this from anything. He said that he wouldn’t like it on his agenda (The Strategic Development Key Area Group)  and that’s why it’s on Customer Services.”  

batchelors farm nature reserve Burgess Hill

Andy Stowe, a local resident said: “We’ve seen too many times in the last year, stuff getting on to the agenda that shouldn’t be there and that’s what’s getting people riled up about this, as we’re getting to a situation where we can’t trust an agenda as we don’t know whether its real or not. If we had come to this meeting and everyone said: ‘Oh that’s a brilliant idea!’ it would probably have gone through.”

Another resident said: “This is why, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this, in the town that I was brought up in, is the most - that I’ve ever known it – disappointment with our local representation.

“It would appear to people writing on social media or in any contact with the council that we are very, very poorly represented at the moment and it’s almost like it’s becoming somewhat amateur and the town is suffering for it, and THIS is the sort of thing, that I’m afraid shines a very dim light on the fact that we seem to have a Town Council that has no cohesion or professional strategy.”

burgess hill town council

The item concluded with Cllr Williams making a recommendation that Batchelors Farm should be protected, it was seconded by Cllr Henwood. However, both councillors are not members of the committee and therefore cannot have put forward the recommendation. We await to see if this will be ratified at the next full meeting of the council – it’s a moot point anyway as Batchelors Farm is already protected in the Mid Sussex District Plan!

All in all, this final significant meeting of the 2023/24 council year summed up what regular attendees have had to endure over the past 12 months. It’s not been pretty, and the councillors need to seriously sharpen up for the next municipal year or the public’s patience really will run out.

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