The area known as Speckled Wood is entirely in Tressell Ward, bounded by Victoria Avenue in the north, School and Sandown roads to the east, Frederick Road to the south, and Greville Road to the west (click on the map for a larger image).
It has an interesting history, and has been home to allotments, charcoal burners, turkey farms, and a piggery. Church Street, along the western edge, once had housing along it, which was demolished in a slum clearance programme in 1959. The road is now little more than a footpath. Although overgrown and abandoned for many years, the woodland was a favourite play space for local children, who knew it as ‘the ‘oller’. About fifteen years ago, Ore Valley Action was set up by local people to campaign for the woodland to be protected, and volunteers began to clear footpaths through the woodland. Since then, it has become extensively used by local people for walking, relaxing and simply enjoying. Most are surprised by how tranquil, calm and beautiful the woodland is, in an area with very little public open space.
Land ownership in the woodland is complicated, with parts of it unadopted, parts of it in private ownership (by many different owners), and some now owned by Ore Community Land Trust. Most of it currently has open access to the public, and is unfenced.
In the former Local Plan, most of the woodland was designated for housing development. However, the council proposed to protect Speckled Wood by designating it as protected open space in the new local plan. Some landowners in the woodland objected to that, so the final designation was decided by the planning inspector. The Victoria Avenue site (outlined in green on the map) already had planning permission for development, and a site backing on to School Road (outlined in yellow on the map) was also earmarked for developed of up to ten homes, and around six homes on a site at the Clifton Road end of Church Street (outlined in red on the map). This site is, however, not really part of the woodland, forming an area of scrub on the junction of Church Street and Clifton Road.
Ore Village Green is owned by Hastings Council and was already protected open space, through a covenant on the land when it was given to the council in the 1920s. A small area of land behind it (outlined in orange on the map) was owned by Hastings Council, but has now been transferred to Ore Community Land Trust – they have their ‘volunteer centre’ here, in a shipping container.
The planning inspector not only supported the proposal to protect the woodland, but increased the extent of the protection, removing the Victoria Avenue development site and the Old London Road development site (outlined in yellow) from the plan. He supported the proposal to develop the Church Street site. With these modifications, which the council accepted, the inspector declared the plan ‘sound’. And so the new local plan was finally adopted by the council on 23rd September 2015. With that, the protection of Speckled Wood was finally achieved.
The Church Street site is now owned by a local developer, who has planning permission to develop it for five new homes.
A local community group, Ore Community Land Trust, is now looking at ways it could acquire land and maintain the woodland, either by land being donated to the trust, or by applying for grants for land purchase – the land now has little financial value as protected open space. This will be a lengthy process, but it will hopefully end with the woodland being maintained entirely for public benefit. Hastings Council has transferred two small plots it owned in the valley to the Trust, and they have already acquired some additional land from private owners.
Tressell councillors have always been committed to keeping the woodland undeveloped, with the long-term aim of having the woodland designated as protected open space, owned and managed by a local community trust. This woodland is precious, beautiful and enjoyed by hundreds of local people. The battle to protect the woodland from development has now been won.