Mid Sussex District Update August 2019

28th August 2019

Update report for Mid Sussex District as at end August 2019

More homes, but not enough!

Driving around Mid Sussex you might think that there was a lot of house building underway. And indeed there is…

But not enough! At least, not enough at present for the District Council to be meeting the target of 876 homes being completed each year. This target was set by the Planning Inspectorate when it approved the Council’s 2014 – 2031 District Plan less than two years ago. When the Plan was examined, the Council had a shortfall of 218 homes against that target and, exceptionally, was allowed by the Inspector to build its way out of that deficit over the remaining life of the Plan. Over the last two years though that deficit has grown rather than shrunk, and now stands at 466 homes.

At the Plan’s examination CPRE argued before the Inspector that it would be a folly to impose on the Council an unachievable new housing target: one that failed to respect the rural nature of the District and would result in the Council falling back into default where it could once again lose control over its planning policy and developers could once again build more or less where they like i.e. a return to the situation that existed in Mid Sussex for a number of years before the adoption of the current District Plan.

To make matters worse, the Council’s plan increases the housing target from 2024 to 1,090 homes per annum (before accounting for the backlog). So the housing numbers are all going in the wrong direction. The poor Council must feel like Homer’s King Sisyphus who was punished in Hades for having cheated death with having to roll a huge rock to the top of a hill, only to see it fall back down whenever it reached the rim!

The Council maintains that it still has an all-important supply of sites for enough housing for the next 5 years (5 year HLS) because its Plan allocates sites around Burgess Hill (the Northern Arc and Freaks Farm), Hassocks and elsewhere which will enable enough houses to be built over the next 5 years to meet the target (if all goes to plan!). But self-interested developers are already threatening to challenge the Council’s increasingly fragile-sounding assertion. The Council is taking other steps to boost housing delivery: it has recently resolved to impose a condition that building be commenced within one year of permission being granted, rather than the normal 3 years.

It will also be consulting this autumn on a so far unpublished preferred list of additional sites that it will seek to allocate for development to enable it to meet its increased target and backlog. Expect the sites that will be consulted on to be very controversial locally, but realise that the march of the housebuilders will be relentless.

CPRE Sussex has long argued that the Plan’s housing target is undeliverable – the product of centrally imposed political wishful thinking. But, like it or not, it is the target by which the Council is now being judged, and it is absolutely not in our District’s interest for the Council to fail and for a return to a developers’ free-for-all.

The High Weald AONB

So what have we been doing as CPRE Sussex in recent months to help improve our Sussex countryside? One focus has been on the High Weald AONB. The Glover Commission looking at the future role of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in its interim findings, has taken on board the key points made in our submission that AONBs in particular need constitutional strengthening, a broader brief and additional funding if they are to play a similar role to national parks in keeping our most precious landscape assets environmentally fit and protected for future generations.

We find ourselves increasingly arguing that new housing on small sites within the High Weald need to prioritise social and affordable homes over market housing if we are to maintain sustainable rural communities and businesses. We have encouraged Mid Sussex DC to reject a couple of development applications that would harm rather than foster the health of the High Weald.

Better design initiatives

We have also joined in the increasingly widespread debate over how to raise design and layout standards for new development schemes. Mid Sussex DC and the High Weald AONB Unit are both to be applauded for proposing high design standard guides for developers and establishing expert design panels to advise them. We welcome the considerable potential of these initiatives. As part of our regular CPRE Sussex programme of training for our volunteers and for local council members we will be running a seminar in November on how improvements to the design and surroundings of new developments can be achieved even as housing numbers and density pressures rise.

Burgess Hill Northern Arc and Homes England

On the same theme we have initiated contact with Homes England, the Government’s national housebuilding agency and now the future developer of the 3,600 home Northern Arc scheme outside Burgess Hill on which Mid Sussex DC pins so much of its hopes for delivering its housebuilding target. Homes England has accepted our offer to work with them to ensure that this major scheme is developed over the next 15 years in fuller consultation with local communities and in a way that maximises the potential for environmental net gains. Whilst, in an ideal world, the fields around Burgess Hill and the Bedelands Nature Reserve would have remained part of our green and pleasant land, now that the area is an allocated development area CPRE Sussex is keen to ensure that the development is well-designed, delivers affordable housing and protects biodiversity.

CPRE re-branding

Overall, this has been a productive few months. And behind the scenes CPRE nationally has been re- branding itself. We will keep the CPRE acronym, but be calling ourselves the “The Countryside Charity” and introducing a new logo. You will see us promoting more actively CPRE’s strategic aims of connecting people and countryside, promoting rural life and empowering communities. Please do encourage family and friends to join and support our work – we really do need that support and public validation – via the “Join Now” page on our website: www.cpresussex.org.uk, and use that website to discover all the other good things we are doing around the county re climate change, Gatwick, urban forest creation (really!), and much more.

Michael Brown
CPRE Sussex lead volunteer for Mid Sussex District