Speckled Wood: What's it all about?
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 twelve 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 owned by Hastings Council, and parts of it in private ownership (by many different owners). 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. Because of the opposition of two major landowners, the council believed the proposed designation of the woodland as open space would be more likely to be accepted by the planning inspector if small parts remained designated for housing development. The planning arguments for why it shouldn't be developed focused largely on problems of access. County Council highway officers said that access from the existing entrances isn't possible for more than a very limited development. This would be for the Victoria Avenue site (outlined in green on the map) for which planning permission had already been granted, no more than ten homes on a site backing on to School Road (outlined in yellow on the map) and around six homes on a site owned by the Homes and Communities Agency at the Clifton Road end of Church Street (outlined in red on the map). This HCA owned site is, however, not really part of the woodland, forming an area of scrub on the junction of Church Street and Clifton Road.
Following an 'examination in public' of the new local plan, which took place in December 2014, the inspector issued his preliminary report. He 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.
Ore Village Green and a small area of land behind it (outlined in orange on the map) is owned by Hastings Council and is already protected open space, through a covenant on the land when it was given to the council in the 1920s.
The inspector supported the proposal to develop the Church Street site, but removed the Old London Road site from the plan, effectively including this site too in the protected open space. 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 has finally been achieved.
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) submitted an application for the development of five houses on the Church Street site. This application received outline planning permission on 4th February 2015. The proposal includes development on Church Street itself (on the land adjacent to the old workhouse conversions), but also a house on the green triangle at the Church Street/Clifton Road junction. To find out more, go here. This site has now been sold to a local developer, who intends to develop according to the previously agreed planning permission.
A local community group, Ore Community Land Trust, is now looking at ways it could acquire the land and maintain, 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 could be a lengthy process, but it will hopefully end with the woodland being maintained entirely for public benefit. Hastings Council is currently transferring two small plots it owns in the valley to the Trust.
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.