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Mid Sussex District Update June 2022

6th July 2022

CPRE Sussex news – what’s been happening in Mid Sussex January – June 2022

People power and the story (so far) of Cuck-Sty!

People power works!

Bear with me and I will explain.  THE big event in planning terms was the issue in January within Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) of draft proposals to update its District Plan (an update that the Planning Inspector’s approval of that Plan in 2018 required).  These updating proposals would, amongst other things, extend the District Plan period from April 2031 to 2036, and allocate sites where the extra housing required by the extended plan could be built.  These draft proposals were presented to MSDC’s Planning Scrutiny Committee in Mid-January with the intention that they be published for formal public consultation as the representing the Council’s best strategy for the long term future of the District.

Somehow (and the mind boggles at the reality of it) this fully worked up draft Plan arrived on the Committee’s desk with many of its members (including Conservative members) being totally unaware of what was being proposed, and of its incendiary nature.  The draft plan called for the building of 1,185 new houses and flats every year between now and 2038 (that’s 20, 145 new dwellings) and the allocation of 27 new housing sites – all of them greenfield site.  (Those 27 would be in addition to the 25 housing sites that are about to be allocated via a separate sites allocation process – see further below).  The new allocations would include four “super-sites”, all in the south and west of the District: west of Burgess Hill (1,400 homes), at Ansty Fram south of Cuckfield (1,600), off Reeds Lane, Sayers Common (2,000) and at Crabbet Park (eventually 2,300).  The proposals did not include any policy to deliver any housing scheme in Burgess Hill town centre, which is the single most sustainable development site in the District.

So politically sensitive was the consultation draft Plan update deemed to be by the Council’s controlling group that, at the very last minute it was withdrawn from the consultation process for a re-think behind closed doors.  And that is where it remains, with a vague promise that a revised version may see the light of day in September.

Meanwhile the parish councils in Ansty and Cuckfield have come together to alert their residents to the significance of the plan to build 1,600 houses on the borders of their separate communities on what they are calling a “Cuck-Sty” site.  I have had the privilege on behalf of CPRE Sussex of working with the two Parish Councils to brief residents in two very well attended parish meetings.  The second session earlier this month, attended by 230 local people, was in the form of a Question Time debate with a panel that comprised Mims Davies MP, MSDC leader Jonathan Ash-Edwards as well as the Liberal Democrat leader on the Council, Alison Bennett, and Cuckfield Parish Council’s chair, Andy Roberts and myself.

And this is where people power comes in.  So strong and united has been the horrified reaction of the local residents at what their District Council has been proposing that its Council leader felt compelled to make a public commitment at that meeting to withdraw the Cuck-Sty allocation from their Plan update when it is finally published for public consultation.  Whilst that promise may not be the end of the matter, it shows how public opinion can influence the powers that be.  CPRE Sussex applauds the leadership shown by the two parish councils in the service of their residents.

Why the 5 year review of MSDC’s District Plan is in a pickle

And where does that leave the District Plan update process?  Not in a good place, and for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, process.  As the above true story illustrates, when it comes to developing its planning strategy MSDC works in secret.  That is an unusual and unhealthy approach.  CPRE is more used to working with planning authorities that develop planning policy in an open and inclusive process that engages communities and outside experts from the outset in the development of policies that make the most of local knowledge and independent expertise and carry the best chance of generating a consensus.  MSDC’s approach to planning strategy is not transparent or inclusive, as we believe it should be for a public authority.  It is also a missed opportunity to introduce fresh thinking and to make the best of things.

Secondly, there is a serious problem in the way that central Government dictates that local councils must calculate the number of new homes that their Plans must see built.  This results in the supposed housing needs of planning authorities throughout Sussex (and beyond) being significantly exaggerated.  Planning authorities have to calculate that need using an algorithm (don’t we all love algorithms!).  This algorithm requires (i) the use of out of date projections of long term housing growth that we know exaggerates significantly the rate of that growth and (ii() the arbitrary multiplication of the hosing target (in Mid Sussex’s case by 40%) on the premise that the building of the extra houses (almost always on greenfield sites) will result in a reduction of house prices on supply and demand principles.  However, there is absolutely no evidence that in the real world developers do reduce the price of their new homes (and the Government’s own advisers tell them that it doesn’t happen) – though there is ample evidence that developers’ profits soar!

There are other problems with the methodology; but CPRE Sussex calculates that, if just these two anomalies were corrected, the number of new houses required to be built in Mid Sussex between now and 2038 (the extended District Plan period) to meet local real world need would be reduced by over 10,000 homes.  That would obviate the need to allocate any of the four super sites proposed in the suspended District Plan update.

CPRE Sussex is not alone in its long-running campaign to get the Government to make these evidence-supported, logical, methodology changes.  Local MPs and council leaders (including Mims Davies MP and Mr Ash Edwards) have joined the chorus.  But, so far, there is no evidence of a shift in central Government policy on this.  Absent a change of heart, whatever MSDC is up to in its secret Plan update review, it will still have to plan to build an excessive number of homes, find an alternative to the Cuck-Sty site, and unnecessarily swallow up large swathes of the countryside that should remain untrammelled.

Whilst MSDC has its hands largely tied behind its back when it comes to housing numbers, there are a number of other aspects of the stalled Plan update that it does lie within its power to get right.  And, by golly, there is a need for fresh thinking if the Council is to lead the way towards climate change mitigation, net zero emissions, or biodiversity and countryside enhancement.  Or towards a much needed focus on prioritising the delivery of genuinely affordable housing, especially in rural areas where the greatest new housing need lies.  Whether any of that necessary radical thinking is actually going on behind the Council’s closed doors remains to be seen.

The Sites Allocation Development Plan Document (SADPD)

Moving on from the District Plan update, what else is there to report.  We have told you in recent newsletters of a separate planning process document – the SADPD – whose purpose is to identify suitable sites for the building of the remaining number of homes that the existing 2018 District Plan requires to be built (this really is a never-ending process!).  That SADPD has now completed its public examination process and is about to be adopted.  A particular concern of CPRE Sussex was MSDC’s proposal to allocate a major site at the South of England Showground in Ardingly – within the High Weald AONB – for housing development.  Working with Ardingly Parish Council we have succeeded in getting the size of that allocation reduced from 100 houses to 35.

We can also report success  with the withdrawal of a wholly inappropriate land redesign/waste dumping proposal that CPRE Sussex was opposing between Warninglid and Cuckfield.

A Center Parks at Oldhouse Warren?   Not if we have anything to do with it!

Last, but not least, is Center Parcs scheme announced last year to develop Oldhouse Warren in the midst of Worth Forest as a new mega-spa resort.  This would be environmental vandalism at its worst.  CPRE Sussex is collaborating with a number of other environmental charities.  Together we will be opposing this scheme vigorously when a planning application is finally submitted.  We will keep you advised and asking for your help when that moment arrives.

For those of you who have managed to get to this point in this newsletter, my thanks and admiration.  It has not been an easy read.  But one cannot appreciate the range and significance of what is happening within Mid Sussex, and how it will impact us all, without explaining a little of the detail; so thank you for bearing with me.  And I hope that we will see many of you at our AGM on 1st October.  You will get further information on that nearer the time.

Wishing you all a splendid summer enjoying all that wonderful Sussex has to offer.  And, as ever, thank you for supporting CPRE in our work to protect our local countryside and communities.

Michael Brown

Mid Sussex lead for CPRE Sussex, the Sussex countryside charity.