Local party leaders voice opposition to proposals for 3,000 homes in East Chiltington

All five party group leaders on Lewes District Council have voiced their strong opposition to proposals by Eton College to build a 3,000-home development at East Chiltington.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 12:43 pm
East Chiltington villagers protesting against the proposals. Photo by Charlotte Boulton
East Chiltington villagers protesting against the proposals. Photo by Charlotte Boulton

Don’t Urbanise the Downs, a campaign group which was formed in March to fight the scheme and now has nearly 2,000 members, spoke to all five party group leaders to ascertain their views on the plans.

Developer Welbeck Land, working on behalf of Eton College, wants the homes to be included in the Lewes Local Plan.

But local leaders from across the spectrum have all deemed the 500-acre site inappropriate for a new town.

Conservative group leader Isabelle Linington said: “I’m totally opposed to this development. No doubt about it.

“I think it’s totally inappropriate and shouldn’t even be considered, let alone allowing anything to proceed.”

She added: “Our mantra has always been brown site first; you shouldn’t even consider greenfield sites until you’ve filled all the brownfield sites.”

The former biologist also voiced her concerns about the environmental impact.

She said: “I’m very worried about it. It would be disastrous if they put a town there.

“It’s just unthinkable that they could destroy all that land.

“Also, it’s a nonsense argument to say that people can enjoy the countryside if they lived there because if they build this town, there wouldn’t be any countryside.”

Zoe Nicholson, Green party leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “I stand horrified with residents about the scale and size of this development in our beautiful countryside, and the impact on the fragile eco-systems in which is it sited.”

She added: “The main problem with the Government’s planning system is that it incentivises building first and then putting the supporting infrastructure in.

“That is not sustainable. Any development should not be reliant on people using their cars to live a full life.”

Labour leader Chris Collier said: “We shouldn’t be building on green spaces.

“I think the environmental impact across the whole area is huge. We’re not moving fast enough; we’re trying quite a comprehensive biodiversity strategy at Lewes which we’re pushing forward on but there isn’t enough urgency about the climate crisis in general.”

James MacCleary, LibDem leader and Leader of the Council, said: “What I find most frightening about it (the scheme) is the traffic generation and the carbon impact of all those additional vehicles … and linked to that would be the energy demands of the development and the effect that has in terms of the sustainability of the site.

“If there is one thing that must be obvious to everyone, it is the fact that the roads there are in no way fit to support a settlement of even the fraction the size.”

He also stressed the need to prioritise development on brownfield sites.

“Just in Lewes alone we have around 2,000 houses that have planning permission and aren’t getting built,” he said.

“Why aren’t we forcing developers to get on and build those houses or give up the land to someone who will?

“Developers sit on developable land for years, sometimes even decades, and councils don’t have the power to force them to sell to someone who will build.

“That’s really the big blockage. It’s a genuine scandal.”

Ruth O’Keeffe, co-leader of the council’s Independent group, pointed out that – historically – market towns normally develop organically, and in strategic locations.

She said: “(The proposed scheme) is very, very large in the landscape and, although people make reference to much-loved market towns, this is not the usual way a market town is created.

“Organically developing whatever you have is much more sensible and ensures that the people who live there have the right sort of services.

“You can declare that everyone is going to be car-free but I can’t see how you can possibly guarantee that.

“Infrastructure is all of it – it’s going to be very difficult.

“I can’t see how it’s going to work at all. The existing level of traffic on those lanes is already causing problems.”

She added: “In terms of affordable housing, the reluctance of developers to build on brownfield sites has been a disaster.

“We used to have a target of 20 per cent for affordable housing in Lewes, but in around 2013 … the actual percentage of affordable housing provided was 3 per cent.

“Brownfield sites come with issues, so developers need to build luxury houses to get their money back.

“It’s easier for them to meet affordable housing targets on greenfield sites which means they will go for those sites.”

Marc Munier, leader of the Don’t Urbanise the Downs Campaign, said: “The party group leaders on Lewes District Council are unanimous in opposing the scheme – and so are many local MPs.

“This says a lot about how strongly people feel about this proposed development.

“Nationally, planning is one of the key agendas at the moment and people all over the country are fighting profit-driven schemes like the Eton proposal, whatever party they support.

“This has become a national crisis.

“We must protect our open countryside and put developments where they’re needed, not just where they will make the most money.”

A spokesman for the proposed development previously said the plans provided ‘a positive solution to the government requirement to provide new homes in Sussex.

“Welbeck Land, working on behalf of Eton College, submitted the land to the Council at the end of last year as part of the review of the Lewes District Local Plan Part 1,” the spokesman said.

“The plans being developed represent an innovative and sustainable response to the need for local housing.

“All development at scale in England is likely to be controversial but we are committed to engaging with our local partners, stakeholders and the community to develop our plans with the needs of the district and the wider area as a central focus.

“So far we have contacted local parish councils and we are hopeful that full engagement will begin shortly.

“We look forward to sharing our aspirations for a sustainable mixed-use community at North Barnes Farm and to hearing the ideas of local people.”

Find out more about the developer’s plans at www.northbarnesfarm.co.uk