Half of Newick Parish Council has resigned in protest after a decision to turn down planning permission was overturned by the Local Government secretary Sajid Javid.
The application, to build up to 50 houses at Mitchelswood Farm in Allington Road, was originally turned down by planners at Lewes District Council in February 2015 as it did not fit with the Newick Neighbourhood Plan (NNP) - a document which sets out where residents would and would not like development to take place.
However after a public inquiry the local government secretary Sajid Javid overturned the decision as a planning inspector said the neighbourhood plan could not be used to refuse ‘suitable applications’.
Five councillors - including the council's chairman Nick Berryman and vice chairman Chris Armitage - resigned at meeting last night (Tuesday) in response to the decision, which they say makes the NNP 'worthless'.
In a statement released after last night's meeting, the former councillors said they believe the Government's decision had 'gone against the spirit of The Localism Act 2011'.
The statement reads: "Newick residents embraced the Neighbourhood Plan and believed in the process and engaged with it knowing it would enable them to influence the way forward for a thriving community. It meant they played their part in local democracy and by endorsing the plan they could shape and direct sustainable development in Newick.
"By allowing this appeal to succeed [the Government] has gone against the wishes and desires of the residents of Newick, Neighbourhood planning was a right for communities introduced through the Localism Act 2011. It allowed communities to shape development in their areas through the production of Neighbourhood Development Plans.
"By allowing this appeal [the Government] has clearly gone against the spirit of The Localism Act 2011 and has totally eroded confidence in the principles of local democracy. It has made a mockery of all that the Act sought to achieve. This verdict will destroy Newick in time.
"The residents of Newick were very clear in their focus. They did not want this development built. The inspector’s report was a lengthy report and appears to have ignored much of what was said during the hearing. During the appeal hearing NPC stressed numerous times it required new development close to the village services.
"This has been ignored and dismissed as an irrelevance. Not to the residents of Newick who tried to influence their future.
"Newick Parish Council and its residents are bitterly disappointed by this ruling. In recent months the Secretary of State had appeared to support Neighbourhood Plans despite inspectors using carefully selected precedents to justify themselves. Now this Secretary of State has gained the unenviable reputation of going along with inspectors in virtually every case thus causing untold damage to local communities and ignoring localism.
"[We] consider the Neighbourhood Plan to be worthless and will now give open licence to developers to build on land anywhere round Newick."
Five councillors resigned at the meeting. They are: Nick Berryman, Chris Armitage, Chris Jago, Cathy Wickens and Mel Thew.
The decision has also been criticised by Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, who said it 'seriously calls into question the validity of Local and Neighbourhood Plans.'
Ms Caulfield said: “The decision reached by the Secretary of State on this matter flies in the face of this Governments commitment to local decision making.”
“During the formation of a neighbourhood plan, local communities are asked to select areas of land that they feel are suitable for development. This was adhered to within Newick’s Plan, and the Mitchelswood Site – to which this decision relates - was not felt to be appropriate and as a result was not included within that Plan.”
“I am therefore hugely disappointed with the Secretary of State’s decision, which I feel seriously calls into question the validity of Local and Neighbourhood Plans right across the UK. I will not stand by and let our green spaces be concreted over especially when local communities have identified sites for housing without destroying our greenfields.”
In his report to Mr Javid, the planning inspector said the plan only laid out sites for the minimum number of required houses and does not limit housing elsewhere.
He wrote: “There is no policy in the NNP seeking to impose a cap on development. To impose a cap retrospectively would be wrong. If such a policy was intended – one which seeks to prevent development beyond the settlement boundary other than on allocated sites – then it needed to be clear and explicit in the submission version of the NPP.”
During the appeal process, Newick Parish Council disagreed with this assessment, saying development of the site would ‘clearly conflict’ with the plan and be ‘a severe disservice’ to residents.
Writing to planning inspector on behalf of the parish council last year, chairman Christopher Armitage said: “Neighbourhood planning is a right for communities introduced through the Localism Act 2011. It allows communities to shape development in their areas through the production of Neighbourhood Development Plans
“To allow this appeal would be going against the spirit of The Localism Act 2011 and would erode confidence in the principles of local democracy. It would be a mockery of all that the Act sought to achieve if this appeal were successful.”
In response to the decision a spokesperson for Lewes District Council said: “[The council] is obviously disappointed with the decision and is currently considering future options that may be available.”
The application originally asked for permission to build up to 63 houses on the site but this was revised down to 50 during the appeal process.
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