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Mid Sussex District Plan examination update

Friday, 16 June 2017 10:00

The public examination of the draft District Plan prepared by Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) rumbles on with a further two days of hearings on housing-related matters convened for late July.

The first hearings took place last November and resulted in an interim recommendation by the Planning Inspector that MSDC’s proposed annual housing target of 800 new homes p.a. be increased to 1,026 dwellings p.a., a target made up of 876 d.p.a. to satisfy Mid Sussex’s own assessed housing need of 14,900 dpa by 2031, and a further 150 d.p.a. towards the unmet housing needs of Crawley district.  That target would effectively require roughly a doubling in the number of homes built in Mid Sussex compared to actual completions over recent years.

Arguments made by CPRE Sussex in the examination hearings that the District lacked the environmental and infrastructure capacity to absorb such an unprecedented level of new housing appeared to have been dismissed by the Inspector.  Nor has an answer been given to CPRE’s point as to how MSDC is supposed to adopt a new Plan with a far higher housing target when MSDC has spent the last 5 years “in special measures” because it has been unable to come anywhere close even to meeting its current - lower - target.  (Councils are required to demonstrate that they can ensure enough new home completions to meet the next 5 years need based on an their housing target: MSDC currently cannot even demonstrate a 3 year supply against their current target).  MSDC is being pushed into accepting a housing target that it won’t be able to achieve – or only achieve by ignoring environmental and infrastructure constraints that are core parts of proper sustainable development planning. 

Since the Inspector announced his interim housing policy recommendations, MSDC accepted the Inspector’s conclusion that 876 d.p.a. are needed to meet local needs, but has sought to persuade him to defer the requirement to build additional homes to meet Crawley’s needs until 2024/5.  There is also an important unresolved technical question as to whether compliance with environmental regulations governing the protection of Ashdown Forest should cap the permitted level of development in the draft Plan.

CPRE remains fearful that, if the new target is not achieved year on year until 2031, the new Plan will fail, and the Council will once again lose control of strategic planning across the District.

The new hearings will be considering MSDC’s proposals as to the annual rate of house building over the life of their new Plan (the housing trajectory), and how they should be divvied up across the district’s individual towns and parishes.  It will also address the implications of the Habitats Regulations on development around Ashdown Forest. 

CPRE Sussex will be actively participating in these hearings: the Inspector has ordered additional housing to be built, but there is no evidence or Plan proposal as to what types of additional housing are most needed, nor as to the viability of building them.  CPRE will also argue that MSDC has still failed to come properly to grips with the Habitats Regulations issues.  We have to recognise though that we face a Planning Inspector whose commitment to seeing planning authorities up their housing targets at any cost has, so far, made him impervious to the argument that sound sustainable planning requires proper recognition of balancing environmental considerations.

In any event, adoption of Mid Sussex’s new district Plan remains some way off.  Even if the July hearings conclude the public examination, the Inspector has to finalise his recommendations to MSDC.  MSDC will in turn then have to consider those recommendations, produce what will involve a substantial set of revisions to its examined draft plan, consult again publicly on that revised plan, and then get final Planning Inspectorate clearance for its revised version.  Whilst MSDC’s website still records its expectation that the new Plan will be adopted before the end of 2017, that oft-postponed timetable still looks optimistic.

Whilst, in principle, an adopted new District Plan should be better than no plan, its long-term deliverability looks seriously problematic; and in any case it will be a plan that seriously erodes the rural character of the district that has made it one of the very finest parts of the country to call home. A sad outcome to a 10 year strategic planning exercise.

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