Our government is on a mission to build, build, build; 300,000 new homes a year is the target.
For years Wealden District Council has failed to put in place an up-to-date a Local Plan, leaving the district hostage to the government’s imposed presumption in favour of housing developments.
The developers are having a heyday with the path to planning permission made easier by the built-in bias towards applying the National Planning and Policy Framework which favours house building.
They are being supported in their quest by a planning department anxious to meet their targets and who show little regard for development boundaries or their prevailing planning policies.
In other words, we are facing a perfect storm leading to burgeoning number of grants of planning permissions throughout the district which have made significant inroads into rural land.
The effects of this state of affairs upon our local area are, by any measure, disastrous for the countryside and the rural economy.
Hellingly is being engulfed by Hailsham, Westham and Polegate are en route to join with Stone Cross and Stone Cross is drowning in new building estates.
Hailsham itself is being dramatically changed from a small country town to one facing a tsunami of new developments.
Horam is being blitzed with new builds.
Trees throughout the district are at risk from these developments despite the council’s declared intent to be environmentally friendly.
Traffic congestion is now endemic, the Stone Cross crossroads being a typical example, to say nothing of the rise in pollution from car fumes.
The Pevensey Levels, a precious area of wetland and a RAMSAR site, is gradually but surely being damaged by surface waters flowing from the new developments, a situation seemingly being tolerated by statutory bodies such as the Environmental Agency.
This defies the essence of the Ramsar Convention and its Wise Use of the River Basin Management Guidelines (an international scientific agreement, not just a national aesthetic one like the High Weald AONB).
Rural land, otherwise described in the planning world as “greenfield sites”, is being targeted by developers who prefer such sites to brownfield sites on the basis that they are easier to develop.
Schools and medical practices are being overwhelmed with infrastructure clearly being unable to cope.
A grim picture indeed.
What is at the heart of these graphic changes is simple – politics.
It begins at the top and percolates down to the councillors who find themselves with little room to manoeuvre. The government has pronounced the drive for new homes and the statutory regime for that to be achieved is in place.
It is ironic that the scenario I have depicted is totally unnecessary.
The government drive for more building is on the basis of a lack of housing.
That lack would not exist if robust and immediate action were taken to oblige all developers, regardless of their political donations, to build on land where permission has already been granted, or at the very least, to decree that those potential new builds be taken into account when applying the housing targets, targets which the government has accepted are based upon a rather suspect algorithm.
However, perhaps all is not lost. At least Mr Johnson has promised some protection for greenfield sites but for that promise to be fulfilled it requires new regulations to be put in place.
Those regulations are urgently needed, if not to stop, but at least curtail further destruction of rural land and further damage to the Levels.
The ballot box will ultimately reflect the electorate’s view of the new landscape. However, in the meantime if you feel that the housing developments in your area are out of hand, you need to make your views known. This can be achieved via letters to your MP or to your local paper, contact with your local councillor and the lodging of your objections to any offending planning applications. The council effectively disregarded or paid little weight to the 900 objections to the Morning Hill development, despite assurances to the contrary. It will take even more objections to see off large scale housing applications.
It is a depressing fact that, unlike developers, local residents have no right of appeal against planning decisions. We therefore have to make our voices heard in the hope it will make a difference during the planning process.
Remember once our rural land has been sacrificed for development, it’s gone and won’t come back.