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Mid Sussex District Update December 2020

6th January 2021

CPRE Sussex activity in Mid Sussex District and the wider Sussex countryside.

We wish all our members a happy and healthy 2021.  May it be a year that we can look back on more fondly than 2020.

This update is meant to be mainly about the important work we have been doing locally within Mid Sussex to protect our wonderful countryside from inappropriate development – and I will get round to that.  But as this year above all has highlighted, our countryside is of immeasurable value not only for its own sake, but for peoples’ health and well-being in times of unparalleled stress, and there is so much more to CPRE’s work in as Sussex’s countryside charity than local planning.  So I want to take a moment to highlight some of those county-wide efforts first.

Starting with climate change, the most vital long-term challenge facing the world.  There is no vaccine to cure global warming: only changing our own behaviours, and smart technology, will do it. And strong Governmental/public authority leadership, direction and investment (action, not just words).

CPRE Sussex has long been shouting, cajoling and nudging our local public authorities to lead by example: whilst our campaigning, working alongside other environmental campaigners, pushed our county councils and most of our other public authorities to accept publicly that we face a climate emergency, they are distressingly poor at matching words with action.  Not least in the exercise of their planning powers to direct behavioural change by planning applicants to protect the environment.

Let me give you two recent examples where we have tried to hold our authorities to account.  Firstly, the threat of shale oil extraction still haunts Balcombe village a decade after exploration there started, with Angus Energy still seeking to undertake further testing at their site there within the High Weald AONB.  West Sussex County Council (WSCC) is still considering the latest planning application. So, whilst I am hopeful, I cannot yet tell you whether or not it will happen.  But what I can tell you is that WSCC has to date inexcusably ignored what we consider to be the incontrovertible climate change case against permitting more unneeded fossil fuel extraction there, or elsewhere in Sussex.

My second example involves Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC).  CPRE Sussex would not normally seek to get involved in a large town centre redevelopment plan.  But we were shocked to realise that neither their proposed new Masterplan for Haywards Heath Town Centre, nor the environmental impact screening report that they use to justify it, makes a single reference to climate change, or to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or to air pollution in a plan that extensively discusses how to accommodate more vehicle traffic.  Not one in nearly 100 pages!

So we have called for a rethink of the Plan and made a number of suggestions aimed at demonstrating that Haywards Heath’s town centre can be made a more popular place to visit and work in whilst improving its climate footprint. (see for more info).  Our proposal that South Road (the main shopping street) be converted into a low traffic zone won’t be universally popular.  But it is the kind of change that, in conjunction with our other proposals, will reduce traffic emissions, improve air quality and make Haywards Heath a healthier, friendlier place.   Whether MSDC will listen to us remains to be seen.

We have lots of other positive work in hand.  We are concerned that CPRE research shows that the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (HWAONB) is experiencing more housing growth, and at a faster rate, than any of England’s 33 other AONBs.   The planning protection mechanisms are not working well enough.  So, along with CPRE Kent, we are exploring how best to campaign for better protection for the High Weald from inappropriate development (half of Mid Sussex is in the AONB and a further 10% is in the South Downs National Park), whilst supporting new small scale, sustainably located, affordable housing to meet the needs of local communities.  We are keen to ensure that the Glover report on the future of our designated countryside does not gather cobwebs on Defra’s shelving, and that its recommendations are implemented.  In line with Government promises to add 30% more protected land we are also asking Natural England to review possible extensions of the AONB boundary where that can be justified on natural beauty grounds.  We will be consulting widely on what we expect to be a long-term project.

Early next year we will be asking members and others to help us with some citizen science to take part in our 2021 star count to help us track the impacts of light pollution across the county.  Our last count demonstrated that over half (53%) of Sussex suffers from “severe” light pollution.   That is sufficient to disrupt wildlife as well as being energy-wasteful.  Wonderfully, one of our new Mid Sussex volunteers, Liz Rushton, has offered to help us involve more children in this challenge.

I should also pay tribute to the tireless work of active CPRE member, Michael Nailard, whose Woodland Flora and Fauna group undertake extensive conservation projects around Hurstpierpoint.

That gives you just a flavour of the range of what we are up to both in Mid Sussex and beyond.  And now back to local planning!

The big issue of the day is the Government’s developer-supported proposals fundamentally to reform the planning system in pursuit of its ambition to build 300,000 new homes a year.  This is not the place to delve into the detail.   But the proposals – a developers’ charter – are fundamentally flawed pretty much from start to finish.  The Government is ignoring the science in imposing so much housing on us here.  With one brownfield site for 1.3m homes and 500,000+ unused planning permissions extant on CPRE’s calculations, there is simply no need to tear up yet more greenfield land; there is no excuse for trying to squeeze an exorbitant and arbitrary centrally imposed housing requirement on rural districts with significant environmental constraints (Mid Sussex being one).   And to reduce the decision-making powers of local authorities and the voice of local communities (and organisations such as CPRE) in those decisions is shameful.   If it happens it will not end happily.

As you would expect CPRE, both national and locally, has been a lead singer in the chorus of concern right across the spectrum of those involved with planning.  To its credit, MSDC is itself a member of that chorus; and we have been assisted behind the scenes by local Sussex MPs, including Mid Sussex MPs Mims Davies and Andrew Griffith.  We have scored an important success in forcing the Government to withdraw its mutant algorithm that would have imposed a huge arbitrary housing increase on Sussex’s rural districts.  But do not be fooled into believing that solves the problem.  Far from it.  There is a long fight ahead to secure reforms that will work, that will preserve and strengthen local democracy, and that will deliver on the real housing crisis: the need for far more affordable and social homes to rent and buy.

We continue to monitor and comment where appropriate on local planning applications and appeals that could harm the countryside or are environmentally damaging.  Amongst them are a number of cases in Balcombe, Cuckfield and Horsted Keynes that have been running for ages: ones that keep bouncing back like one of those kids’ tennis balls attached by elastic to a pole.  We have also had a go at Homes England for felling so many mature oaks as they develop the access route for their Northern Arc development north of Burgess Hill.  We are in regular dialogue with Homes England and MSDC on environmental and community engagement issues arising from that development having asked Homes England to establish a liaison forum where those issues could be discussed to help inform detailed plan-making.

We also made detailed representations to MSDC on its proposed District Plan Development Plan Documents (DPD) that will allocate sites for future development and supplement their district Plan in other ways.  In conjunction with Ardingly parish council we objected to a major site allocation on part of the Showground there within the High Weald AONB.  We also called for the Plan to include a specific climate change planning policy (there is none!) and for their proposed air quality policy and monitoring to be beefed up.  That plan proposal will be subject to planning inspector public examination next year, where we will have the chance to press the Inspector to heed our concerns.

So, all in all, it’s been another busy year.  We encourage you to keep up to date via our website:

CPRE is the only charity focussed on fighting locally and nationally for our all-important countryside.  Along with all charities this year, we have been hard hit financially.  Please continue to support us in whatever way you can, financially or by offering your time and experience; and please encourage your family and friends who have found that countryside valuable to them this year in particular to become members too.

Michael Brown

Mid Sussex District volunteer lead