Lewes MP accused of ‘trying to play the blame game’ over extra housing

Lewes’ MP has been accused of ‘trying to play the blame game’ over extra housing development being forced on the district.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 12:06 pm

Last month, Emily O’Brien, cabinet member for planning at Lewes District Council, warned that the integrity of towns and villages is under threat from ‘grotesque overdevelopment’.

Because Lewes’ local plan is almost five years old, the district faces a situation where its housing target is set to almost treble to 782 dwellings a year using the standard national methodology set by government.

The Co-operative Alliance, made up of Lib Dems, Greens, Labour and independents, took control of the council from the Conservatives back in July 2019.

The Lewes district is facing a massive increase in its housing targets

Meanwhile there have been a number of changes made by central government to national planning policy and guidance since the local plan was adopted in May 2016.

But last week Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes, laid the blame for the current situation at the Co-operative Alliance’s door.

She had spoken to the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government and claimed the reason for the housing increase was due to the Lib Dems and Greens failing to update the local plan.

Ms Caulfield said: “The Lib Dems and their coalition on Lewes District Council are about to let their local plan reach five years old without updating it or letting the Ministry of Housing know where they are with the matter.

“They are instead playing politics with local housing targets, blaming the government for forcing increased housing on them. In fact if Lewes District Council were to update their local plan and keep the Ministry of Housing informed then they would not have any targets set by anyone else. Lewes District Council were warned months ago that this needed doing.”

The government’s white paper on planning reform, published last summer, stated that local plan preparation takes an average of seven years under the current system.

The council says it anticipates the submission of the local plan to government by its deadline at the end of 2023.

The Lewes Local Plan Part 1, also known as the Joint Core Strategy with the South Downs National Park, was adopted in May 2016. This process was held up by an unsuccessful but lengthy legal challenge brought by Wealden District Council.

This unavoidably put back the production of the Local Plan Part 2, which was approved by the government planning inspector and adopted in February 2020.

Meanwhile in 2018, a legal requirement to review strategic policies in local plans within five years of adoption was introduced, with plans needing to be updated where they are considered to be out of date.

Further changes to national policy since Local Plan Part 1 was adopted, including the introduction of a standard method for calculating the number of homes that an area should provide, has meant that the strategic policies can no longer be considered to be up to date according to national guidance.

Cllr O’Brien (Green, Ouse Valley and Ringmer) said: “It is just so disappointing to hear that Maria Caulfield is once again trying to play a blame game over the government’s housing numbers when what we all need to be doing is working together.

“Needless to say that what she is claiming is not true and we are carrying out the local plan process within the government’s own rules.

“I have personally been offering Maria Caulfield briefings for weeks and she has failed to take up the offer. Council officers meet with government officials regularly and we will continue working closely with them to comply with their rules.

“I really hope that we can move on quickly from this unfortunate episode, and work together to properly challenge the government’s unrealistic housing target for our district.”

Lib Dem James MacCleary, leader of the council, added: “There is a process that the council is required to follow that is laid out by the government. Our planning team has followed their methodology and that has generated the 782 per year housing target. Council officers have met with government officials and they have confirmed we have applied their methodology correctly.”

He suggested residents wanted to see politicians getting on with the job and not ‘squabbling’, and hoped the MP would accept the invitation to come to the table ‘rather than undermining the process from the sidelines’.