Letter: Concreting over the countryside

4th June 2021

Letter to the Editor, Sussex Express

Dear Sir,

Councillors Emily O’Brien and Ann Newton (letters 4 June) are very different people. However, as planning leads for Lewes and Wealden councils they are both up against the same national government policies. These impose ridiculously high housing targets via the innocuous-sounding ‘standard method’. No credible local plan can deliver such targets. Anyone who blames either council for the current developer feeding frenzy on our Sussex countryside is misleading you. The blame lies firmly on the planning policy changes introduced by Mrs May’s government in 2018 & 2019.

The ‘standard method’ dictates a government-imposed target for each District. These are inordinately high, and based on discredited, obsolete household number projections. Lewes, where people die faster than they are born, is told it ‘needs’ 500 new homes every year, though a planning inspector decreed no more than 345 were deliverable. A dodgy algorithm then jacks the 500 up to 800 per year, via a fraudulent ‘affordability factor’. Its sole purpose is to shift new house building to those parts of the country where houses are most expensive, so land speculators can harvest the greatest windfall profits. This delivers the exact opposite of the proclaimed ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Publicly the government trumpets that to fight climate change most new homes should be in towns and cities, with redevelopment of brownfield sites prioritised. Few windfalls for land speculators there! Speculators profit by developing car-dependent Low Weald countryside. The real aim of the 2018-9 changes was to subvert the public agenda in the speculators’ interests. Their gambits are working. Concreting over the countryside steams ahead. The planned Lewes North Street and Newhaven Marina developments remain stalled.

An interesting question is whether Mrs May’s government realised what it was doing when it introduced its planning changes. Was it secretly colluding with the land speculators, or was it conned? And what are we to make of the emerging leader of the back-bench Tory rearguard action against this rape of the English countryside being no other than Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead?

John Kay

CPRE Sussex