Wealden District Update August 2019

16th September 2019

Update report for Wealden District as at end August 2019, including issues with Five-year Land Supply, mitigation from development in Ashdown Forest plus a call for a volunteer!

5 Year Land Supply (5YLS)

In August 2015, Wealden considered that they could not demonstrate a five-year supply of land (5YLS) and shortly thereafter they lost an appeal for a 165 home development at Oaklands, south of Hailsham. Since then, developers have been piling in and several unsuitable applications have been accepted by the Council on the basis that if they were refused, they would be overturned at appeal. But we think that Wealden has not helped itself in resisting these applications due to the unusual way they have assessed their 5YLS. An alternative method would have shown an adequate supply and it is bizarre that the Council has not chosen this to avoid the developer free for all.

Ashdown Forest

Subsequently, in 2017, Wealden found that it couldn’t rule out an adverse effect arising from additional traffic emissions from development on the protected species on the Ashdown Forest and imposed a moratorium on new development that could result in an increase in emissions. This moratorium was lifted in 2018. The new local plan is currently being examined by the Planning Inspectorate but Wealden has already granted permission for a large number of houses (1,558) on sites allocated in the new plan.

These new permissions have been conditioned to contribute to a mitigation fund to be used to prevent emissions from the additional traffic from adversely affecting the Habitats Regulations (HR) protected Ashdown Forest. But the HR require the effectiveness of the mitigation to be demonstrated beyond reasonable scientific doubt before permission can be granted. However, Wealden has not decided what the mitigation will be so, in our view, is unable to demonstrate its effectiveness and thus is in conflict with the law.

Planning Applications

Of the 1,558 dwellings allocated in the new plan already approved, a site in Willingdon is for 396 houses, two sites are at Stone Cross (75 and 90 houses), three sites in Hailsham (165, 225 and 400 houses) and two sites in Crowborough (100 and 103 houses). At least two developers (74 dwellings in East Hoathly and 700 in Willingdon) have gone to the Planning Inspectorate for a decision as Wealden indicated that they would be recommending refusal as these sites are not allocated in the draft plan and would need an appropriate assessment for their effect on Ashdown Forest.

There are other large applications which have not been determined, including one for 119 houses in Crowborough and another for 205 houses in East Hoathly. These developers may be waiting to see how the local plan examination progresses before pushing Wealden for a determination, or alternatively, they could be biding their time before requesting the Planning Inspectorate to provide a decision.

In the year to March 2019, there were 828 homes built in Wealden, the vast majority being on greenfield sites. The extant local plan requires 450 homes a year.

New Wealden Local Plan Examination

Wealden submitted its draft plan for 14,228 houses for the period 2013 to 2028 to the Planning Inspectorate in January this year. An inspector was appointed and the examination in public commenced at the end of May.

This new local plan intends that the majority of the development is in allocated sites in the Hailsham, Stone Cross and Polegate areas (the so-called South Wealden Growth Area) but proposes minimal infrastructure improvements to accommodate the level of growth. It soon became apparent at the examination that the landowners, developers and other Councils (Eastbourne, Lewes, South Downs National Park and Tunbridge Wells) all had a similar objective, that the proposed 14,000 houses should be considerably increased.

Every one of these organisations asked the Inspector to throw out the plan because, in their view, Wealden had failed the Duty to Co-operate test. The other local authorities wanted Wealden to build more dwellings to assist them meet their own housing targets and because Wealden declined to do this, allege that Wealden has not co-operated. Wealden, however, considers that emissions generated by traffic from development above 14,000 homes would have adverse effects to the Ashdown Forest and so couldn’t help with meeting other authorities’ housing need.

The draft plan is based upon an annual housing target of 950/year, but as outlined above the developers and other authorities tried to convince the Inspector that this target is too low. Disappointingly, after only a few hours of debate, Wealden capitulated by agreeing to increase the Objectively Assessed Need by 20% to 1,096 dwellings/year. Wealden, however, is also saying that the air quality constraint at Ashdown Forest will limit new housing to their figure of 950/year. Of course, the ‘build more brigade’ do not consider that the increased traffic from the new development will lead to greater emissions at Ashdown Forest and they are supported in this view by Natural England. We firmly believe Natural England is wrong and said so several times at the examination. We believe they have misinterpreted the Habitats Regulations.

We fully support Wealden in their assessment that traffic emissions from further development could harm the Forest. But the Council is pressing on with its planned 950 houses/year on the basis mitigation measures will prevent any increase in emissions. However, Wealden has not identified any specific mitigations but listed several measures “that could be considered”. Clearly, without specific measures, the beyond reasonable scientific doubt test cannot be demonstrated. We stressed this point at the Examination, but now wait to see how the Inspector views the position – she has missed her target for issuing her report by the end of August.

Can anybody spare an hour or two a week?

We are finding it quite difficult to keep up with the volume of planning applications being submitted in Wealden and have missed some for which we should have submitted objections. If there is a member who could spare an hour or two a week to monitor the planning section on Wealden’s website and log these applications, this assistance would be greatly appreciated. If you can help, please email lesley.wilson@cpresussex.org.uk.

Nick Daines for Wealden North & John Hurwood for Wealden South

Photo: Redstart in Ashdown Forest, Photo © Tom Lee