Local plan for thousands of homes in Hailsham area set for public consultation

Wealden development plan SUS-170903-000308008
Wealden development plan SUS-170903-000308008

A major planning document setting out the future of development in a large part of East Sussex is to be sent out for public consultation.

At a full meeting  of Wealden District Council on Wednesday (July 18), councillors agreed to send the draft Wealden Local Plan out for an eight-week public consultation, to be held between August 13 and October 8.

The decision comes after a long delay to Wealden’s local plan process, as the council sought further evidence about the environmental impact of development for the Ashdown Forest and other SACs (Special Area of Conservation) in the district.

Introducing the plan, the council’s portfolio holder for planning and development Ann Newton said: “I do realise that some of you may have reservations about some of the items of the plan, particularly if they are personal to your own parishes.

“However difficult it is we must think strategically and we must have a plan in place as soon as we possibly can. If we don’t, as I alluded to at a recent joint planning committee, is far worse.

“We would remain in a developer-led situation, with the potential for our planning decisions to be made by central government. It is not a prospect I would advocate.”

Before members voted to send the plan out for public consultation, they considered an amendment put forward by Hellingly Independent councillor David White.

The amendment, seconded by Independent Democrat leader Stephen Shing, sought to rewrite the section of the plan directing development in Lower Horsebridge. The changes would put forward an alternative piece of land for development in place of its currently allocated site.

Cllr White said: “I put forward this amendment because of my concerns around the development of the east side of North Street, beyond the 32 dwellings which have been previously been approved.

“I’m informed by a landowner, who farms the immediately adjoining land to the north, that a substantial part of this site flooded in October 2000 and I believe it could flood again.”

Cllr White spoke in detail about an alternative nearby site, on the west side of North Road, which he believes will be more appropriate.

In response Cllr Newton said he would be able to bring his concerns forward during the public consultation and the draft local plan may be changed as a result. Cllr White disagreed with this approach, saying the draft document would be given planning weight in the meantime.

Despite support from the Independent Democrat group, the amendment was defeated. As a result the draft local plan was put forward for vote without Cllr White’s requested amendments.

Putting the plan out for public consultation was opposed by the Independent Democrat group.

Stephen Shing, who is also councillor for Willingdon, said: “There are issues around air quality and road improvement.

“I  am not convinced that this draft local plan has addressed them fully. Therefore I am not supporting it.”

While other members gave their support to the plan, many expressed disquiet about local aspects of it – particularly around the locations of specific allocated sites.

Bob Standley, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said he was sympathetic with these views but urged councillors to vote in favour of sending the draft plan out to public consultation.

He said: “I think we’ve had a good debate. I fully understand that with a local plan at this stage there is sometimes a conflict between local interests as a local member and being a Wealden councillor. We are both and it has to be taken into account.

“We do need to have a plan. The idea of a developer-led [system] or a free-for-all would be absolutely horrific.”

As a result of the vote, the draft local plan is to be put out for consultation between August 13 and October 8. The final draft, to be published shortly, will include amendments agreed by councillors at earlier meetings.

It includes measures designed to protect the natural environment in Wealden and to mitigate the effects of development by reducing nitrogen levels in East Sussex.

The draft local plan also includes a number of built-in safeguards, which would trigger a review of the policies if certain conditions – such as the environmental mitigation – are not met.

The conditions include the guaranteed delivery of vital infrastructure, including improvements to both the district’s transport network and the construction of Hailsham Waste Water Treatment Works.

The plan allocates the development of 14,228 dwellings for various areas of the district between 2013 and 2028. This is made up of 5,307 dwellings with existing planning permission, 4,012 dwellings on allocated sites and 2,516 windfall dwellings, with the remaining homes already completed.

The vast majority of these dwellings have been allocated to the South Wealden Growth Area – which includes Hailsham, Stone Cross, Hellingly, Polegate and Willingdon – although significant developments are also set for Ninfield, Horam, Heathfield, Mayfield and Wadhurst.

Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service