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Mid Sussex District Update March 2020

20th March 2020

Mid Sussex District Planning update for CPRE Sussex members as at March 2020.

Although Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) can allocate sites for development, it cannot build the sites out itself and is therefore reliant on developers to deliver against the huge housing target for the District. In our last update we reported on the increasing backlog in the delivery of new homes within Mid Sussex district sufficient to meet the delivery target, despite the increasing number of planning consents granted. That is a growing problem.

So, what happens when houses are not completed fast enough? It is harder (although not impossible) for the council to refuse development that is not allocated within its local plan. In the face of its somewhat precarious position, MSDC had applied to the Planning Inspectorate for confirmation that it was still meeting its housing target, but the Inspectorate has refused to rule on the Council’s application, pointing out that MSDC’s application had been lodged too late to be considered. It is now open season for developers to argue, successfully or otherwise, that MSDC’s housing policy is no longer up to date, and that the default presumption applies that development must be permitted on any sustainable site.

This setback comes despite MSDC granting permission for an unprecedentedly large number of new developments and preparing a plan to allocate sites for a further 1,920 new homes – proposals on which CPRESx has made extensive representations, and which MSDC expects to finalise shortly for final pre-submission public consultation soon. We are pleased to report that MSDC appears to have accepted our argument that it is inappropriate to allocate sites within the High Weald AONB for major development, with the council proposing to reduce the size of an allocation proposed adjacent to the Ardingly showground. That is a significant win. Sadly, though, a largely deaf ear has been turned to other representations from ourselves and public responders to the consultation.

With this background, and ridiculous as it sounds, we are now at risk of heading back to the pre-2018 days where, ultimately, developers rather than the Council may effectively determine where, and how much, to build around Mid Sussex. It is less than two years since the District Plan was adopted; and already its core housing policy is open to challenge as being out of date; and all because new permitted housing is not being completed fast enough by builders to meet the planning rules. This is where the planning system fails to support localism and the ability of local people, via a Local or Neighbourhood Plan, to shape the places they live. It is a travesty.

On the plus side, MSDC will be requiring housebuilders to adopt design and building practices that conform to their newly adopted Design Guide. This has the laudable aim of raising the standard of new homebuilding. We argued for tougher guidance to be included on energy efficiency. That apart, the Guide is a sound document that we applaud and look forward to seeing applied in practice.

We are monitoring closely awaited decisions on a number of local planning applications/appeals on which we have expressed concerns. One such is an application by Angus Energy to extend test drilling for shale oil at Balcombe, within the High Weald AONB, which we have lobbied hard against over the last decade. So it is gratifying to report that the planning officer handling the application is recommending refusal of the application on the basis that the harm to the AONB outweighs the (to our minds dubious) benefits of onshore oil exploitation Unfortunately the West Sussex CC planning committee meeting due to consider this recommendation has been postponed indefinitely; but it is a very encouraging turn of events with potentially wider ramifications for oil drilling elsewhere within National Parks and AONBs. We would have been even happier if the refusal had also been based on the adverse climate change impacts of fossil fuel exploitation!

As well as our ongoing countryside campaigns for viable villages, better designed and more affordable homes, 2020 will see us spend more time campaigning for better land use. One important aspect relates to the need to ensure that the opportunities created by radical imminent changes in agricultural funding practices support significant net biodiversity gains and an improvement in, soil, air and water quality. The Committee on Climate Change has recently outlined the significant changes needed to our uses of rural land if we are to deliver on the Government’s commitment to achieve a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions. This must be achieved in a way that supports a strong, if changed, agricultural sector.

Michael Brown, CPRE Mid Sussex lead, March 2020