Judge rules in favour of council’s housing plan in Wealden

Wealden District Council, Hailsham November 5th 2012 E45049N SUS-140228-111025001
Wealden District Council, Hailsham November 5th 2012 E45049N SUS-140228-111025001

A High Court bid to quash Wealden District Council’s housing strategy and force it to go back to the drawing board has been thrown out.

One of the country’s top judges, sitting at the court in London on February 21 dismissed the challenge brought by the group, known as Ashdown Forest Economic Development LLP, to the council’s Core Strategy Local Plan (CSLP).

The Core Strategy is the planning document for the Wealden district area, including Hailsham, Polegate and other towns and villages in South Wealden, and sets out a vision for future development until 2027.

The group claimed the plan does not provide enough additional housing in the area, with the overall requirement of 9,440 homes falling short of the 11,000 figure they claimed was needed.

The group had also claimed the council, the South Downs National Park Authority and a Government planning inspector who had cleared it to be adopted, had been too cautious and protective of the environment and nearby Ashdown Forest, which they claimed was having an effect on housing proposals in the area.

Mr Justice Sales rejected all of the group’s grounds of complaint.

In Mr Justice Sales’ view the Planning Inspector’s judgement of the plan was both ‘rational and compelling,’ as the district council had produced sufficient evidence to support the smaller number of housing, adjusted previously from 9,600.

Mr Justice Sales also agreed with the Planning Inspector’s view in support of the depth of Wealden District Council’s investigative work, and the extent to which alternative solutions were researched, and did not agree that the council failed to carry out further work before it could exclude the possibility that a higher housing figure would harm Ashdown Forest.

The Judge dismissed as ‘misconceived’ claims that a failure to carry out a detailed appropriate assessment of alternatives to the Core Strategy was in breach of Habitats Regulations.

He also said Wealden District Council had produced sufficient evidence in relation to the risk of environmental harm to Ashdown Forest to justify the use of the smaller housing figure in the Core Strategy.

David Elvin QC, representing the consortium at London’s High Court, had argued that the 9,440 figure was ‘irrational’ and that the council had failed in its legal requirement under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to produce a CSLP ‘in general conformity’ with the South East Plan.

He argued that the adoption of the lower housing requirement was having real consequences for development control in the council’s area, citing a recent refusal to grant Masma Ltd outline planning permission for 195 homes at Oaklands in Hailsham.

The Secretary of State dismissed Masma’s claims that the council could not demonstrate a five year supply of housing, finding that the relevant figures for such a supply could be found from the CSLP.

Cllr Ann Newton, Wealden District Council Cabinet Member for Planning and Development, said: “This judgement confirms how open, transparent, and logical the council has been in its Core Strategy. Wealden will offer the same level of support we have given to our Local Plan to assisting and advising local businesses in the district to expand and grow. We will work closely with them to resolve how best to meet the requirements set out by the Local Plan and continue to offer free one-to-one advice as we have done throughout the proceedings.” When asked for their reaction a spokesman for the consortium said: “We have no comment to make at this time.”