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Sussex Councils face “Mission Impossible” as developers stockpile thousands of unbuilt homes

Land scheduled for development near Eastergate Land scheduled for development near Eastergate Photo © Pete Edgeler

Local councils struggling to meet government housing targets are caught in an impossible ‘catch 22’ under existing planning laws, warns CPRE Sussex.  

At present there are planning permissions for more than 13,000 unbuilt homes in the combined Districts of Mid Sussex and Horsham alone, which is equivalent to another town the size of Burgess Hill.  

However, despite granting permissions for many thousands of homes, councils are unable to speed up the building process due to the behaviour of developers who want to ensure maximum profit.  

In Lewes District, developers have allowed planning permissions to lapse on a large Brownfield site at Newhaven Marina, and plans for 145 homes on the site of the town’s old Parker Pen factory have been abandoned after the proposal was deemed unprofitable by developers.  

“Newhaven is now within the orbit of the Greater Brighton housing market area, but is identified as a cheaper area,” says Dr John Kay from CPRE’s Lewes group. “Builders are not interested in that end of the market, but prefer high end projects on attractive Greenfield sites. The Parker Pen site, in a commercial part of town, is not suitable for high end development.”  

This growing backlog of unbuilt homes has created a vast shortfall which local planners are powerless to correct. To add to, this many Councils are facing not only mounting criticism for failing to reach their targets, but also further pressure from developers taking advantage of the appeals system to secure yet more ‘permissions’.  

By exploiting a council’s inability to demonstrate a rolling five year supply of new homes developers can use the Appeals System as a ‘back door’ into a District Plan, even after it has been approved by a planning Inspector.  

“The lack of a demonstrable 5 year housing supply, even when a target is excessive or cannot be met because developers are either unable to build or will not build at the required rate as happened during the recession, often carries more weight at Appeal in deciding applications than environmental and infrastructure considerations. The NPPF has empowered and enabled developers to ride rough shod over communities” said Dr Roger Smith from CPRE’s Horsham District group.  

“This problem will not go away because housing targets continue to be set that are excessive and unreasonable because Inspectors and Councils presume unrealistically that mortgage loans will be readily available and economic growth unabated throughout plan periods; Horsham District’s plan runs from 2011 to 2031”.  

“Moreover, although Councils are not empowered to compel developers to build houses they are nevertheless blamed by the Government when targets are not met. It really is ‘mission impossible’ for Councils and a lucrative job opportunity for planning consultants and barristers” said Dr Smith.  

Unrealistic housing targets put great pressure on the countryside because such high figures enable developers to abandon costly Brownfield projects for more profitable Greenfield ones.  Recent government figures show that far from solving the problem, an increase in planning permissions (242,000 to June this year) has had no impact at all on, building rates (remaining static, at around 136,00 per year).    

“As many people in CPRE will tell you, the housing crisis is the consequence of financial industry failures and growing social inequality," Says Dr Kay. "Fiddling with the planning system is the wrong treatment based on the wrong diagnoses.”

Download the full CPRE SUSSEX press release below.

Photo of land scheduled for development © Pete Edgeler

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