Mid Sussex District Update December 2021

14th December 2021

It is the time of year to account to you, our Mid Sussex members and supporters, on what we at CPRE Sussex have been doing locally in Mid Sussex during 2021.

Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) Sites Allocation DPD:  Over the course of this year, MSDC has been progressing its proposed Sites Allocation Development Plan Document towards its adoption next spring.  The purpose of this planning document is to allocate sites on which enough houses and employment businesses could be built sustainably to enable MSDC to demonstrate, as it must, that its District Plan housing target (of at least 16,390 units) and job creation target can be met during the District Plan period ending in 2031 when housing completions and existing allocations are taken into account.

To this end MSDC is proposing to allocate a further 22 housing sites around the District, 7 small business sites, as well as a large science/technology park west of Burgess Hill. MDSC has been seeking to justify its proposals to a Planning Inspector in a public examination that took place during the summer.  CPRE Sussex chose to challenge the scale of a proposed housing allocation on the South of England showground in Ardingly, and the proposed loss of part of a local green space in Burgess Hill that had only recently been adopted as a community resource in the town’s neighbourhood plan.  There were objectors to most of the other housing sites being proposed; but we took the view that, as MSDC has no option but to find considerable new housing land to meet the housing target imposed on it when its District Plan was adopted, we had to focus our efforts on the most egregious cases that might not otherwise be challenged.

In the case of Ardingly, we teamed up with the Parish Council.  The core of our argument was that this greenfield site within the High Weald AONB was not a sustainable location for a large-scale housing development that would supply lots of large market housing unrelated in number and scale to the local needs of the parish when there were alternative sustainable sites available outside the AONB.  That argument has found favour with the Planning Inspector, with the result that the development allocation at this location is likely to be reduced from an originally proposed 100 units down to 35.  CPRE Sussex led this campaign, so it is a significant victory for us.  It is the only site on which the Planning Inspector has recommended a reduction in the allocation proposed by MSDC; so we are quietly pleased with our success here, even if the Inspector’s logic for suggesting 35 units has yet to be explained.

Not so successful was our case, and that of Burgess Hill Town Council, that the proposed allocation for 30 homes on part of a local green space in Burgess Hill be scrapped.  We are disappointed that the Inspector (so far without explaining his reasoning) has allowed this allocation to proceed and this small but important bit of wildness in the middle of Burgess Hill that the local community valued highly and that the planning rules are intended to protect from developers, will be lost.  It is all the more unfortunate given that this site is not necessary to allocate to enable MSDC to meet its housing target.  The District Council has run roughshod over the local community’s wishes, expressed in their neighbourhood Plan, and the Planning Inspectorate is letting them get away with it.

There is a further round of public consultation on the modifications that the Planning Inspectorate is recommending MSDC to make to its Sites Allocation DPD, and we will be contributing to that exercise; but this document is now on its downhill run to its adoption finishing tape.

Fracking in Balcombe:  In March West Sussex County Council finally put to bed the risk of fracking in Balcombe, a direct threat to the village and an indirect threat to global warming, that has been hanging over everyone for the last decade and which in 2014 saw Caroline Lucas MP threatened with prison.  The unanimous decision of the Council to refuse permission for further exploratory drilling by Angus Energy was taken against the advice of their planning officers, and expressly adopted the arguments put forward by CPRE Sussex that the application was contrary to climate change and High Weald conservation policies.  Our congratulations go the residents of Balcombe who have spent the last decade facing the threat of their village becoming an oil drilling site, and who have led a principled and unflagging campaign to protect their community from that threat.   This is a well-deserved, if under-publicised, outcome, won against the odds.

Northern Arc, Burgess Hill: It may seem odd, perhaps to some eyes distasteful, that CPRE Sussex initiated a collaboration with Homes England, the Government’s national homes delivery agency and supervising developer of the 3,600 housing unit scheme on the north west side of Burgess Hill; and it is not our natural territory!  But, once the development became a fait accompli, we saw an opportunity to work with Homes England to ensure that its planning took full opportunity to integrate the best ecological practices and ideas into their plans, and (we hope) in due course to help encourage new residents to take advantage and, ideally, ownership of their environment and the opportunities that it offers.

Our relationship with Homes England is a positive one, and at a suitably high level within Homes England; and we aim to help make the ecological best of a bad job.  It is another example of our taking a positive approach to our planning role.

Center Parcs, Oldhouse Warren, Worth:  Many of you will be aware of the announcement last July by Center Parcs UK that they intend to build one of their large holiday/spa resorts at Oldhouse Warren near Worth (technically in Turners Hill parish), subject to planning permission for which they have yet to apply.

Center Parcs could not have chosen a more environmentally sensitive location for their plans: the site is in ancient woodland within the Worth Forest section of the High Weald AONB. It is a Biodiversity Opportunity Area and adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  It is home to a number of rare birds and other wildlife that need its special forest habitat for their survival.

Working with a group of other environmental charities we are campaigning to encourage Center Parcs to chose another, much more sustainable location on which to develop their resort – somewhere where they can create a new CO2-absorbing woodland habitat that will contribute to the challenge of containing global warming and encouraging greater biodiversity, rather than wrecking an existing special habitat that has been half a millennium in the making.  A press campaign that we launched nationally last month to influence public opinion reached a multi-million audience via positive articles in the national and local Sussex press and broadcast media.

Should this proceed to a planning application next year, count on our vigorous opposition.  Meanwhile you can follow developments on our website.

Broadhurst Ponds, Horsted Keynes:  We have successfully opposed two separate applications for inappropriate development on a very sensitive and tranquil ancient woodland site outside Horsted Keynes, with permission being refused in both cases.  We have now found ourselves in (successful) opposition to the area’s landowner and his apparent, if disguised, ambitions to use this location as a construction waste dumping site.   Not whilst we are around!

Litter:  One of our members has been on a mission to get local councils clearing away litter dumped on verges along major roads in the District and beyond, and with impressive results.

In the pipeline:  We have a number of other planning application representations in the pipeline, the most significant of which involves the threat of yet more mass inert waste dumping in the High Weald.

And looking ahead to 2022, in addition to the prospect of Center Parcs pursuing their dreams via a planning application into Mid Sussex’s Council Chamber, the main challenge for CPRE Sussex is likely to be consideration of MSDC’s awaited proposals to update (and potentially extend) their District Plan via a required 5-year review.  This is bound to include a number of controversial elements that go to the heart of our purposes as an environmental charity.  And it is all going to have to fit around whatever planning policy reforms the Government finally decides to proceed with after CPRE’s very successful campaigning this year directly to Government that its original White Paper proposals contained multiple fundamental flaws.

Climate change:  We have already put down a marker that we will expect to see significant climate change and pollution control policies within the updated District Plan.  Global warming is the greatest long-term threat to our way of life as a population, and that of future generations.  As the Government’s own Climate Change Commission pointed out in 2020 local planning authorities’ use of their powers has the potential to influence a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.

We regret to have to say that MSDC is a dinosaur planning authority when it comes to climate change.  Of just under 300 local planning authorities in England, MSDC is one of under 50 that have failed to declare a climate emergency or set a target date for the district to become carbon neutral.  And the current District Plan offers no more than a few cursory references to the influence that climate change mitigation must play in planning decisions. Perhaps that is not so surprising given that MSDC has no Cabinet member with a climate change brief, has no Climate Change Scrutiny Committee and a Planning Scrutiny Committee that last met in April 2021. MSDC has a real task ahead to catch up in meeting this challenge.

In summary, we have every reason to fear that 2022 in Mid Sussex will be busier still.  So we thank you all for your continuing support for our work in whatever way you feel that you can best do so.  We are very conscious that a number of you do wonderful work within your own communities to foster things that we at CPRE Sussex stand up for, and for that we applaud and thank you.

Season’s greetings from Michael Brown for Mid Sussex District and from all at CPRE Sussex.