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Power to the people! Plan to build homes in "gap" shelved.

Friday, 31 July 2015 08:00

Residents of Hassocks in Mid Sussex are celebrating their success in fighting off a misguided application by developers, Gleesons, to build 97 houses in a strategic gap between Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint.  And that success is all down to their own hard work in developing their own case and robust evidence.

What makes their success all the more remarkable is that they succeeded in an appeal case brought by the developers that Mid Sussex District Council - the planning authority involved - had decided not to contest, and did not appear at the hearing to support their own original refusal of planning permission.  Leaving residents as interested parties to make the Council's case for it.

That the Council should have taken this lily-livered attitude is all the more bizarre given that the housing scheme proposed would have been sited in the same narrow local gap that protects the separate identities of Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint as another proposed development which was turned down last year by the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government because of its harmful encroachment into the local gap.

CPRE Sussex and local residents made strong and successful representations to the Planning Inspector hearing Gleeson's appeal that, notwithstanding MSDC's devil-may-care attitude to their own local gap policy, the Gleesons scheme would have the same result of eroding the important gap contrary to the Council's own published policy.    

The residents' action group also presented a strong case that the additional traffic would worsen air quality at the nearby notorious Stonepounds cross roads - the site of the District's only Air Quality Management Area because of the already seriously excessive nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels there.  Residents  convinced the Planning Inspector that, if the development were allowed, NO2 levels from increased traffic congestion at the junction would be worse in 2018, not better as local council policy required; and that Gleeson's evidence on the issue was "over-optimistic".  Again, the Council opted out of justifying its own original decision on this point at the appeal, leaving the spade work (and cost) to local residents.

As a result the Inspector rejected Gleeson's appeal on both these grounds. Mid Sussex District Council is meanwhile left red-faced and with some soul-searching to do.

Michael Brown

Mid Sussex District Plan (2015 version).

Mid Sussex District Council has got closer than ever before in coming up with a long term plan for the District that might find its way to adoption in 2016.  Mark you it's been a long, long time coming - the first draft of the Plan was issued for public consultation in January 2008!.  And it has a number of significant hurdles to overcome.  Indeed CPRE Sussex has concerns of its own over the Plan.  A very slightly edited section of our overview part of our representation letter says:

We welcome the recognition, right at the outset of the proposed Plan, that Mid Sussex is a rural district, and that its plan must be formulated and effected in that context.  CPRE actively supports the need for our local villages and towns to remain economically vibrant and self-sustaining, and recognises the need for a strategic plan that will encourage sustainable growth and development that is sensitively planned for its environment, and of good quality: a plan that meets local need within the environmental and infrastructure constraints of the District’s geography and economy.

We recognise that the Plan identifies a very challenging-to-meet need for new homes over the life of the Plan.  We have no issue with the way that need has been assessed.  We do have issues, though, as to the District’s ability to meet that need and its locational strategy for their delivery.  It would be a disaster if the Inspector were to overlook the District’s largely rural, and specially protected, character and to challenge the Council to set an undeliverable housing delivery target that urbanised the District and risked putting the Council back into its current deficit position.

Firstly, though, we appreciate the attention given by you and your colleagues to the submissions that we made to the last incomplete consultation draft of your plan, and welcome the changes that you have made since then to the proposed plan in response to our representations.

We join the loud chorus of those who call for the early adoption of a new strategic plan.  The district has suffered real harm from the extraordinarily protracted time that it has taken to establish its up to date housing need (the first pre-submission draft Core Strategy document was published in January 2008), and to bring forward a plan for public examination and adoption.  During much of that time the Council has not been in full control over the District’s development policy and the appropriate location of needed new housing.  Local democracy has had precious little role to play in planning decisions taken in the interim.

However throughout the process it has been vital that the long-term plan proposed should be a sound one, reflecting the most appropriate sustainable alternative and based on robust evidence.  We have been seeking to persuade you for some years now that one core part of your proposed plan fails those tests of soundness, namely your policy that purports to protect the two Ashdown Forest EU protected sites.  We have been unable to convince you to change this policy, and you have rebuffed our requests for an explanation as to why you are confident that your proposed Plan policies vis a vis the EU sites are robust and its evidence base is sufficient, current and justified.  So we are left with no real option but to ask for an audience at the public examination to explain our concerns, which have wide ramifications for the content of the Plan.

We also still have a concern that the proposed Plan fails to give adequate weight to the promotion of the District’s rural economy (with a weak evidence base to support what policy it does have in this area), and the linked issue of the need for a consistently applied spatial strategy that supports the evidence base as to the future distribution of development in currently rural parts of the district.  

We also have three specific issues where we seek modest changes to the current plan wording to ensure its soundness.  These deal with tranquility area requirements of NPPF para 132; a minor addition to policies DP32 and 33 to ensure their compatibility with national policy on listed buildings and conservation areas protection; and timeliness of annual Plan monitoring reports. 

Michael Brown

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