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The proposed Mid Sussex District Plan 2014 - 2031: An update August 2017

Thursday, 24 August 2017 07:46

Mid Sussex's new District Plan has at last got through its public examination phase and taken a significant step forward towards implementation.  CPRE Sussex took an active part throughout the 9 months of the public examination period, pressing the case for a more appropriate balance to be drawn between the drive for new housing and the District’s special environmental and landscape character. We found ourselves fighting not only the developers but sadly also the Council.

There will be a final opportunity for people to comment later this year on a number of major changes to the Plan negotiated with the Planning Inspector during the public hearings to ensure his support for the Plan's soundness.  The District really needs a new Plan to regain some control over the planning of its future, so this is in principle positive news.

CPRE's support for the Plan comes with major reservations, though.  The District's largely rural character is at risk as never before.

The Inspector has forced up the level of new housing that the District Council will have to provide for to an unprecedented level.  The Council will be severely challenged to identify even more locations to allocate for new development in order to meet that new imposed housing target.  If the Council is to achieve its new target, the level of new building right across the District in the coming years will exact unparalleled change from every parish and town, with unprecedented threat to our countryside and green space including the High Weald AONB which the planning system itself describes as requiring the "highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty".  

The degree of challenge faced by the Council in finding enough new sustainable development sites to meet its housing target is such that there is a very risk that it could fall short, leaving the District with another failed plan and (in effect) restoration of the current dire position of developer control of the District's housing.

In its drive to encourage housing growth, the Council must not ditch the basic principle that development must be sustainable in order to be acceptable.   So CPRE will be pressing the Council to explain how it expects to fulfill its obligation to balance housing growth with environmental conservation and enhancement in line with the basic tenet of planning that both are equally important factors in ensuring that development is sustainable, and that future generations are not denied the rural and landscape heritage that has always been fundamental to the special character of our county.  As the then Planning Minister who introduced the current national planning policy regime said at the time "Planning must be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which we live our lives."  CPRE does not accept that compromising environmental protections built into the planning system is compatible with improving our District.

One area of particular concern to CPRE is the threat of large-scale development within the High Weald AONB and around Ashdown Forest. The law says that planning authorities are not allowed to adopt Plans, or approve development applications, that would adversely impact on Ashdown Forest.  The Council has already been advised by its experts that new development has the potential to do so unless they can be avoided.  The Council has so far failed to produce any evidence that its Plan will enable it to avoid harm that the legislation is there to protect against.  

CPRE has repeatedly called on the Council to work with us to ensure that the evidence is there to enable a proper evaluation to be undertaken of measures to ensure that the Plan is legally sound.  We are determined that it should be, and we again call on the Council to work with us to that end.

Michael Brown, CPRE Sussex representative, Mid Sussex District

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