Councillor Martin McCabe said he feared that, in its current form, the plan ‘leaves the back door open’ for developers to concrete over the Goring Gap and Chatsmore Farm.
The local plan states that development within these gaps will be ‘carefully controlled’ and ‘only be permitted in exceptional circumstances’, but Mr McCabe said: “This isn’t good enough.
“If our ccouncil policy is to protect the Gaps, then our Local Plan should state that development will not be permitted under any circumstances whatsoever.”
At a planning meeting earlier this month, he told the committee that the wording rang ‘alarm bells’.
But Head of Planning James Appleton said it left open the possibility that there could be limited development to support the recreational use of the land, such as sports facilities.
He said: “I suppose it’s as robust as we can be without saying there can’t be any development and I suppose the fact that it’s ‘exceptional’ and also has to comply with criteria about conserving and enhancing the area as green infrastructure.
“I think we’ve got so many safeguards there, we are pretty satisfied that it’s pretty robust. It would be very difficult to justify in the context of that policy any development.”
But Mr McCabe disagreed and said he believed it should be made ‘one hundred per cent watertight robust’.
Councillor Helen Silman agreed, fearing it left ‘wriggle room’ for developers.
But Ian Moody, Planning Policy Manager, said that being too firm with the policy could put the council in a contradictory position when it came to its aspirations for Brooklands – the third green gap designated in the local plan – where limited and sensitive development has been proposed.
After the meeting, Mr McCabe said that retaining the reference to ‘exceptional circumstances’ left the greens gaps vulnerable.
“Indeed, one could well make the case that we are currently in exceptional circumstances as we live through a global pandemic,” he said, adding that it ‘raises the question of who decides what these exceptional circumstances are’.
A spokesman for Worthing Borough Council said the draft Worthing Local Plan ‘strikes a balance between promoting sustainable growth and protecting vital open spaces.