High Court hears arguments for and against 475 homes in Goring Gap

A decision to allow 475 homes to be built on Worthing countryside is being scrutinised by the High Court this week.
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Also known as the Goring Gap, it is an area of countryside that the council considers an important green space and it does not want to see development there.

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An initial hearing took place on Wednesday (July 20) at London’s High Court.

The High CourtThe High Court
The High Court

The court will not decide whether the development is right or not – only whether or not the planning inspector made the right call when he allowed it on appeal.

What happened on day one?

A significant part of day one was spent discussing the extent of ‘harm’ to the South Downs National Park – something developer Persimmon and the council disagree on.

Ms Isabella Tafur represented the council at the hearing, with senior planning officer Gary Peck watching on from the back of court 18.

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Mrs Justice Lang – who will make a decision on the case – recognised that the inspector’s wording suggests there could be ‘some harm’ to the setting of the national park, as argued by Ms Tafur.

“One of the special qualities of the South Downs National Park is its breathtaking views and one such view is from Highdown Hill,” Ms Tafur said.

“The inspector didn’t accept the council’s view that the impact on views would be substantial – he accepts they would be moderate.

“Yet he concludes the setting of the national park would not be materially affected.”

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Ms Tafur also argued that the inspector should have given more weight to the council’s new planning policies – its ’emerging local plan’.

This, she claimed, would make the inspector’s decision ‘premature’ and risked ‘undermining the plan making process’.

The council attempted to give Chatsmore Farm protection as a ‘green gap’ but the inspector ruled that it currently has ‘no formal protection’ as the new plan has not been formally adopted.

But the council argues that the plan is ‘advanced’ as it was scrutinised by a different planning inspector last year who suggested only minor changes.

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Ms Tafur argued that if the new plan was given proper weight, it would have shown the site to be protected from development.

“Even if every blade of grass was developed in Worthing it still would not meet its housing targets,” said Ms Tafur, “Yet the local plan inspector didn’t ask the council to go away and consider more sites.”

At this point, Mrs Justice Lang pointed out that the local plan has not been adopted yet and she ‘didn’t see anything preventing the inspector taking the approach he did’.

What does the secretary of state say?

There is debate over how much protection the land actually has and if this is outweighed by an ‘exceptional need’ for housing.

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This is a key part of the secretary of state’s case because WBC recently failed its housebuilding target by more than 1,400 homes.

Therefore, the secretary of state and Persimmon say the inspector made the right call, as he decided that any harm caused would be ‘outweighed’ by the demand for housing.

Hugh Flanagan, representing DLUHC, said: “There has been no error; the inspector has addressed the substance of the planning issues.

“The outcome absolutely could’ve been no different.”

Mr Flanagan argued that there is currently no extra protection for the land.

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“In the adopted local plan there is no green gap policy, there is no green space policy,” he said.

Mr Flanagan also argued that views from the national park would not be ‘substantially harmed’.

What does the developer say?

Paul Cairnes QC is representing Persimmon.

“There is an exceptional need for housing,” he said, “this was given weight on the highest end of the spectrum [by the inspector].”

Mr Cairnes argued it was not possible for the inspector to know the ‘final form’ of the new local plan as modifications were still being made ‘some six weeks after his decision’ and therefore he could not give it more weight.

When asked by Mrs Justice Lang if he recognised that the inspector’s decision might imply some harm to the downs, Mr Cairnes said: ‘Yes, of course’.

The hearing resumed today Thursday (July 21).