Storm of protest over plans to expand Fittleworth business

PLANS to expand a furniture business by converting a redundant barn at Tripp Hill Farm sparked a heated debate at Fittleworth Parish Council.

Part of the farm complex, which belongs to Barlavington Estate, already provides space for small businesses, including an antiques restorer, an instrument calibration firm and a fencing contractor as well as the ‘Sofas & Stuff’ furnishing company.

The company wants to build a larger showroom to display beds and sofas, with a boardroom and offices above. It is also proposed to increase parking space for additional staff and customers.

Objectors living near the farm, which is in the South Downs National Park, feared change from agricultural to business use would affect their amenities, generate more traffic and cause congestion on the narrow farm track and bridle path.

They claimed due to late notice, they were not given enough time to make their views heard.

They told parish councillors they felt an impact assessment for transport, access and employment should have been carried and asked them to defer any recommendation until these were done.

HGVs delivering to the site already caused obstruction, they said, and this would be exacerbated, if the plan went ahead.

One resident complained her cottage would be overlooked by the new showroom window just five metres away.

Villagers said the site was a working farm until recently and became redundant only ‘when Barlavington Estate obliged the farmer to quit and sell his herd, then demolished the milking parlour and grain silo.’

But having studied the plans, inspected the site and discussed the project with the developer, the parish council planning committee said it was recommending approval.

Planning committee members said they believed using redundant farm buildings for industrial use and increasing rural employment, was consistent with planning guidance. They also felt employees’ cars would use the track only at the start and end of each day. Because the showroom was for display only, there would still be few deliveries. Goods could only be viewed and not sold directly from the premises but ordered online for direct delivery from a warehouse in Nottingham.

The council was split and voted 4-3 in favour of the plan, after which one parish councillor walked out of the meeting.