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Objection to major High Weald housing development at Sharpethorne overruled

9th April 2024

Mid Sussex DC has just approved an application (MSDC Ref: DM/23/0827) to redevelop an abandoned brownfield site (ex Ibstock brickworks) within the High Weald AONB at Sharpthorne. The development will provide 108 residential dwellings (30% affordable) and an on-site Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG).

CPRE Sussex objected unsuccessfully to the application.  Whilst we support appropriate, sensitive, redevelopment of brownfield sites within a National Landscape, we considered that this scheme would be unsustainably located.  It would also represent excessive development within a small village community that missed the (less profitable) opportunity to offer a mix of small commercial premises to encourage local businesses and a rural exception site affordable home scheme.  We took the position that a development of over 100 houses (some three stories tall) with 280 cars parking spaces in a rural AONB location involved over-development, and made residents totally car-dependent, being over six miles from the nearest secondary and further education schools, doctor’s surgery, supermarket and library, and three miles from even the nearest B road.

The National Planning Policy Framework requires development within a National Landscape to be limited in scale and extent and major developments to be refused in the absence of exceptional circumstances and sufficient public interest. In our view those exceptions did not cover this development.

Mid Sussex DC (MSDC) took the position that the scheme, just by repurposing an unused brownfield site, would serve to enhance the AONB and provide a net biodiversity gain; and that this factor merited great weight, sufficient to justify the scheme notwithstanding its accepted breach of MSDC’s District Plan policies on rural development locations.   The claimed enhancement to the High Weald was also deemed by MSDC to be an exceptional circumstance and to provide a public interest justification for allowing this major AONB development.

It is particularly disappointing that the Officers’ report illogically concluded that “given that the application is seeking to develop a previously developed site, the location of the site is not considered to be a reason to resist the proposal despite what will likely be a relatively high reliance on the private car…. There are no sustainable planning reasons to object to this application on highways grounds.”

The infrastructure improvement work contributions sought by the Council (much of it to be spent on school, GP and library provision in East Grinstead) will add an average of nearly £16,000 to the cost of a home on the site.

Whilst there are circumstances in which even major redevelopment of a brownfield site within a National Landscape can on balance be beneficial, we did not consider this major development scheme to be such a case.   The Council disagreed.  So, overall, a disappointing result from CPRE Sussex’s standpoint.