Around fifty villagers packed Cocking Village Hall on the evening of 20th February, keen to hear what Cowdray Estate would have to say about the future of their properties in and around the village, many of which it is fair to say are in a poor state.
Frances Russell, Chair of the Parish Council introduced Robert Windle, Cowdray Estate Manager and explained the importance of a dialogue with the Estate as it owns approximately a tenth of the properties in the parish and the majority of the land area.
Mr Windle then spoke in general terms for a quarter of an hour on the importance, from the Estate's point of view, of filling what sounded rather like a planning vacuum. He said that the creation of the South Downs National Park and the new Localism Act were both catalysts for this work and that this meeting was part of a dialogue, with little cast in stone. One potential area for development he focused on, and invited village feedback on, was the disused Lime Works on Cocking Hill. He outlined the option of creating a camping area for South Downs walkers designed to bring trade to the village without threatening existing Bed & Breakfast businesses.
An hour's wide ranging discussion then followed, with plenty of questions and comments from the floor. Among many topics covered were the potential building of a cottage (Memorial Cottage) on land at 185 Church Path (to the surprise of the existing tenants), a detached house at 210 Cocking Causeway, and developments at Manor Farm for which a planning application had already been submitted. Apart from residential developments, there were proposals to turn the farm outbuildings near the Church into stores, the provision of parking space nearby for Milestone Garage and the move of an Estate Works Yard from Easebourne to the Hawks Farm buildings, north of the village.
Malcolm Woods gave a short explanation of his project to restore the fish ponds in conjunction with the Estate, while Parish Clerk Kate Bain updated the audience on plans for village allotments, saying that an agreement with Cowdrays was close.
There was also some criticism from the floor of the neglect of properties such as 210 Cocking Causeway where two attempted burglaries had damaged an already deteriorating property, regarded as an eyesore by both villagers and passers by. Mr Windle said that 210 was high on the Estate's list, but that there were planning issues and a lack of access for vehicles to overcome.
It was clear throughout, as pointed out by Gill Buchanan, that although there were some current planning applications a lot of the proposals would take years to come to fruition - if ever. It was clear that while some of the potential developments would yield rental income for the Estate, capital investment would typically come from selected land sales and the less commercial propositions would need grant aid to get off the ground.
Frances Russell wound up the meeting by emphasising the need for the debate it had opened up and Robert Windle associated the high turnout not only as evidence of local concerns, but as a sign of the health of the community.
27/02/2012 Note: This website has today uploaded the outline proposal documents - read it it now