District council rejects call for house building pause despite plea from Chichester Harbour Trust

Chichester District Council has said it will not delay the Local Plan process any further nor impose a moratorium on house building in the district - despite a plea from the harbour trust to help protect this threatened area.
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Replying to questions from the Observer, the council said this week: "We welcome the Government’s announcement to hand greater control back to councils and local communities over the number of houses built. We support the Government’s view that the decision on how many houses we take should be based on local needs, the environment and local involvement. We’re pleased to see that they are adjusting the emphasis from housing need being a mandatory target, to an advisory starting point, and that more allowances will be given for genuine constraints.

“The consultation on the proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework completed on the 2 March. The Government indicated that a revised National Planning Policy Framework should be published in late Spring/early Summer, and until the published version is available, we do not know for definite what the revisions will be. Due to the uncertainty and the advanced stage that the council has reached in its own Local Plan, we do not believe it would be of any benefit to our area to delay the Local Plan process any further. If we do, it will put us at risk of further speculative development, which is something that none of us want. By progressing with the plan, we will have far greater ability to defend ourselves from unplanned development.

Cllr Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning at Chichester District CouncilCllr Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning at Chichester District Council
Cllr Susan Taylor, cabinet member for planning at Chichester District Council
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“The Government has indicated that where a plan is at an advanced stage of preparation it can benefit from a number of changes proposed. These include allowing planning authorities two years to review and revise their plan against the Government’s proposed changes if they wish to do so. In addition, to reduce the risk of speculative development planning authorities only need to demonstrate a four-year rolling housing land supply, rather than the current five years. The council currently has a 4.7 year housing land supply. The Government has indicated that those considered to be at ‘an advanced stage of preparation’, will be afforded much greater protection. We believe our current plan is at this point.

“Furthermore, regardless of the proposed revisions, the fact that we have reached this stage means that the draft plan also begins to carry weight at appeals. Some people have pointed to other authorities who have decided to withdraw their plans until the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework. We have given this important matter a great deal of thought and we believe our neighbouring authorities positions are very different to ours.

“We can’t enforce a moratorium on housing development. Under law, developers have the right to submit planning applications which must be determined within statutory timescales. If not, they have a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and without robust and properly evidenced grounds for objection we are likely to be found to have acted unreasonably, with the potential for significant appeal costs awarded against us. It is essential that the council is able to substantiate any grounds for a refusal of planning permission. This will require consultee support. Relevant consultees such as Southern Water, the Environment Agency, Natural England and National Highways have not requested a moratorium in respect of wastewater, transport or any other issues. Without this consultee support we cannot defend a moratorium.

“Chichester Harbour is incredibly important to the council and its residents. Research shows that wastewater from treatment plants is responsible for less than ten per cent of nitrogen entering Chichester Harbour and 90 per cent comes from other sources. We are taking a proactive approach and are working closely with our partners to help protect Chichester Harbour from the many challenges it faces, such as nutrient neutrality and climate change.

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“One example is the Three Harbours Summit. This involves representatives from the council and other local authorities, along with agencies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Langstone Harbour Board and Sussex Wildlife Trust. This is a positive step towards working together to help improve the harbour for future years to come. The aim is that this group will have a positive impact on Southern Water’s five-year investment plan.

“Engagement with other local authorities is also important. We have teamed up with more than 40 councils across the South East to jointly hold Southern Water to account over pollution and infrastructure failings. We have been challenging Southern Water in relation to their engagement with both the planning process and the environmental impacts of discharging sewage into Chichester Harbour for some time. This includes previously filing an official complaint about the company to the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat. Since then, a statement setting out the current position has been agreed to by Southern Water, the Environment Agency and the council in relation to the council’s emerging Local Plan. We believe the way forward is to work with our local authority partners to continue to apply significant pressure on Southern Water.

“We are also committed to working with our partners within the Chichester Harbour Protection and Recovery of Nature Group, which is known as CHAPRON. This was created to respond to the increasing pressures on Chichester Harbour. In addition, there is the Chichester Harbour Water Quality Group. Both groups are looking at how we can improve water quality; conserve, protect and restore wildlife and habitats; and make sure that we protect this special place for years to come.

“There are also a number of steps we are taking within the Local Plan. To ensure that future development does not increase nitrate discharge into Harbour, all new development has to show nitrate neutrality as approved by Natural England. We are also proposing that there are no allocations of land for development within the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we are robustly defending planning appeals within and close to the AONB.

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"In addition, we are also proposing to introduce wildlife corridors which seek to link the wildlife areas in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the South Downs National Park. Where appropriate, development will be phased, in order to ensure that the wastewater infrastructure is upgraded to accommodate the development.”