Chairman, John Spencer, gave this report to the AGM of Winchelsea Conservation Society on 30th April 2022

We have commented on numerous published planning proposals over the last three years supporting residents in Back Lane, Friars Road, Barrack Square, Hiham Gardens, and North Street. So many buildings have changed hands in the last ten years.

‘Glebe’ in Back Lane – St Thomas’ Street, has undergone the most high-quality, sympathetic restoration helping to prevent further structural decay in an iconic building. The repairs have enabled the house to survive and while not finished yet the improvement in the external appearance of this lovely house is a delight to see. The owner has been supported on the Rother DC website by the Society.

The Friars Road development has been beset by a firm that produced plans universally opposed by all residents involved. Matters went so far as the national appeals procedure in Bristol. All the objections from residents and the Society were included in the judgement and as a consequence he sold up. We now await the plans of a new developer. But credit belongs to the residents who under the direction of Jennifer Sutherland fought a very canny campaign.

A different sort of challenge to the built environment: unoccupied and deteriorating houses in the Conservation Area

No 3. The Five Houses, North Street. has been let go for fifteen years. This building is 2* Listed. There are multiple holes in the tile hung west wall. The roof ridge tiles and other tiles are in a very poor state. One ceiling some years ago came down but was then repaired.  Metal window frames are rusting and may well be irreparable.

‘Martens’, St Thomas’ Street, has been unlived in for a similar period of time and has for example shrubs growing out of the chimney stack top. The extent of any damage to the house is impossible to see from the back due to vegetation have taken over the garden.  Rother District Council have been notified on numerous occasions regarding both dwellings, but with no definitive action has been taken. They have also been notified that they are unoccupied.  Definitive action is what we are pursuing with Rother.

Damage to Ancient Monuments in the Town.

The Town Wall in Rookery Field is a registered Ancient Monument.  There are well defined, recorded ruins of the town wall on the eastern edge of Rookery Field mostly covered by soil following David Martin’s excavation twenty years ago. The wall stonework is being undermined in some parts by badgers and some sizeable stones are falling down the cliff. There is also a risk of damage from nearby trees.  If these tree are blown over in a gale, the roots may tear up the stones in the town wall. Recent gales have been a warning as some trees have been blown down.

Greyfriars monastery ruin is another registered Ancient Monument but has for decades been on the Historic England (national) “At Risk” register. This first Franciscan monastery in the UK was built just before this town was constructed. The masonry is in poor condition and excess vegetation and trees growing next to and on its walls carries risk. One area of masonry over the monks’ door collapsed two years ago, when a sapling growing in the walls was blown over in a gale. Its roots pulled stones in the wall, down. The infill of the monks’ door into the chapel is at least ten degrees from the vertical and is slowly moving outwards.  There is no legal clout for Historic England to insist that work to preserve privately owned Ancient Monuments must be carried out. The MP has been alerted to this gap in legislation and we are following this up.

Article 4 Directive.
We are all privileged to live in a conservation area, and an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Many houses in the town are listed and many have over recent years changed hands. Little is advertised about the restrictions contained in Article 4 which detail what can be altered with planning permission. This is vital knowledge for all homeowners in this town. So we are proposing to local estate agents that they hand out Article 4 leaflets to prospective buyers, so that they can factor in what it means to have this series of planning regulations before they plan to make alterations to their potential new homes. We also via the Parish Council asked the Corporation to include the Article 4 directive to be included in the Welcome Pack that they hand out to all new residents.

Going Green in Listed buildings
Gas and electricity costs are going up and listed buildings may not be easy to insulate against cold weather. We are going to push for the use of different types of thin double glazing, if newish not old glass, needs replacing in listed buildings. We need from local government a more flexible approach to the use of modern double glazing. This also is an issue for our MP.

The bottom line for listed buildings is that they need caring for by sympathetic owners and allowing these building to become undesirable in terms of heat retention will make them difficult to retain their value.

Conserving the lovely Telephone Box
This has been repainted and continues to function as phone box. New lighting has been installed and we intend to keep it clean, occasionally. We do appeal to residents to use it from time to time. You never know when mobile phones may be put out of action! Use it or lose it. We are indebted to Peter Hatch for helping us in getting the repainting done. We now have a new light and some sort of new electronic device has just been installed.

Am I allowed to mention the station?
Seventeen years campaigning, nearly hourly services, new seating, school artwork, watering new saplings and new plants in the station planters, the1066 route and national cycle route 2.  Remember, if you travel from Rye, get your ticket as if you were travelling from Winchelsea. It all helps keep the place open.

J D Spencer       Chair, Winchelsea Conservation Society