The waste and insensitivity surrounding Wealden’s failed Local Plan

From: DL PhillipsHawthylands Crescent, 

Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008
Wealden District Council offices, Hailsham SUS-170401-214731008

May I congratulate Huw Oxburgh for bringing to people’s attention the waste of one hundred and ninety five thousand pounds of ratepayers money on the withdrawn Wealden Plan – coupled with the astonishingly stunning insensitivity of councillors then awarding themselves a pay rise at the same Full Council meeting.

May I point our however that the overall monies wasted on this Local Plan will more likely be in the order of two to three million pounds – at a conservative estimate. By way of a freedom of Information request I had asked about total costs – including the then unknown 195k of examination costs – to include for example consultancy fees (eg air quality and other monitoring over three years plus ), legal costs/advice as well as officer time. The figure that I was given came to about £1million. Bizarrely however the council’s response said they didn’t keep records of officer time. Work on this failed Plan however was begun sometime in 2015/2016 thereby giving some four years plus of a team of officers, plus oncosts to be factored in, plus committee time in considering the various stages of the emerging Plan and members’ attendance at those various committees.

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Following receipt of their Inspector’s letter Wealden’s Media Release of January 6 2020 essentially states that the Plan failed because the council had placed too much weight on environmental matters and not enough on building houses. This statement just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Any cursory reading of their Inspector’s letter of December 20 2019 confirms that Wealden failed firstly because it pursued an evidence base, in respect particularly of air pollution on the Ashdown Forest, that simply had no scientific credibility. It further failed because the council had ignored, without justification, the advice of Natural England in this matter and indeed the advice of their own appointed air quality consultants.

The council had also, as emphasised by their Inspector, clearly failed in meeting the legally required duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities by withholding and refusing to share key evidence. This had led to no less than five neighbouring authorities formally objecting to Wealden’s Plan. If they had openly shared this evidence, the Inspector pointed out that this might have led to a different distribution of housing growth across Wealden.

By massively over egging the Ashdown Forest issues this in turn has led to a skewed distribution of development, a failed Plan, and a developer led free for all – especially within Hailsham/ Hellingly.

In Huw Oxburgh’s article the council is quoted as saying that their new Plan would be expected to take between 2- 2.5 years to get to examination. I believe this timescale to be overly optimistic but even this would be two more years of cost to the ratepayers of Wealden. With this overall scale of already wasted resources I believe it is important that residents and ratepayers fully appreciate the true scale of monies involved.

Whilst the council seemingly remains in total denial as to the real reasons for its failure I fear they are likely to simply repeat the mistakes of the past. From any reasoned re reading of their media release of January 6 there remains a fundamental failure to see the problem and an apparent lack of any moral courage to confront it.