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Lewes District Update May 2021

17th May 2021

Issues in Lewes District

For several years new development in Lewes has been largely in accordance with the 2016 Local Plan and its accompanying suite of Neighbourhood Plans. A series of land speculation companies have seen their applications for unallocated countryside sites refused and their appeals dismissed, which has discouraged others from applying. At the same time the greenfield sites in the Low Weald allocated in the Local Plan have been speedily delivered, but the large brownfield sites in the centres of Lewes and Newhaven have failed to come forward.

However, the 2018 and 2019 changes in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) have finally caught up with the District. The 2016 Local Plan, designed to last to 2030, is now to be declared ‘out of date’. The stretching target of 345 new homes per year, just about met in recent years, is thereby replaced by an unachievable 800 a year. This is due to the operation of the ‘standard method’ in which an arbitrary initial target of 500 houses a year (based on obsolete 2014-based household projections) is multiplied up by an ‘affordability factor’ of 1.6 to give 800 houses a year. The effect of the ‘affordability factor’ is not to reduce house prices, but to focus development in those parts of the country, like Sussex, where prices are highest, and developers can achieve the greatest windfall profits. The developers are thus now circling the villages of the Lewes District Low Weald in expectation of planning permissions. One proposal, sponsored by Eton College, is for a vast new commuter estate of 3,000 houses to be located on unspoiled countryside just below the Downs, between Plumpton and South Chailey. The recent ‘call for sites’ that is an early stage in the Local Plan review saw another Low Weald village receive bids from over 40 developers that would, if all approved, grow the community to well above the size of Newhaven.

The government in public says all the right things – that brownfield sites should be used for development first, and most new housing located in urban centres where residents have a good choice of public transport, so private car transport and thus climate change would be minimised. There are however no easy windfall profits from brownfield sites. Moreover, the actual detailed policies now included in the NPPF ensure exactly the opposite outcome, focusing new development on profitable car-dependent sites in the countryside.

CPRE Lewes met with Maria Caulfied MP earlier this month to raise these concerns. The letter below summarises our discussions:

CPRE Sussex to Maria Caulfield MP May 2021