A position statement from Natural England advocates that until an agreed water neutrality strategy is in place and secured, decisions on planning applications within Southern Water’s Sussex North Water Supply Zone, where these would have an increased water demand implication, should be deferred.
Most of the Crawley borough is within this supply zone except Maidenbower, Gatwick Airport and land to the north of Manor Royal.
Peter Smith, cabinet member for planning and economic development at Crawley Borough Council, said: “This unexpected announcement from Natural England is having an immediate impact on our ability to progress planning applications.
“Resolving this issue will ultimately require the water industry to deliver an alternative long term water supply solution, working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and the government.
“We intend to work alongside affected neighbouring authorities to pursue this matter urgently at the highest levels of government, with Natural England and with the water authorities.
“We will do our best to support our planning permission applicants in the meantime and will work as hard as possible to encourage and facilitate a solution as quickly as possible.”
Water in the Sussex North area includes supplies sourced from abstraction points that drain water from designated nature conservation and protection sites in the Arun Valley.
Natural England is concerned that this abstraction may be causing adverse impacts on the integrity of these internationally important sites.
Developers / planning applicants who can demonstrate water neutrality such as by having significant water efficiency measures built into their development and by providing offsetting measures to reduce water consumption from existing development, and who are able to enter into legal obligations to secure these measures, would be able to proceed, subject to the planning process.
The onus is on developers and planning applicants to demonstrate that they can deliver water neutrality for their proposals. For applications in these circumstances which are not able to do this, the local planning authority, in this case Crawley Borough Council, when determining a decision, would unfortunately have no choice but to refuse them, as a matter of law, in light of the Natural England statement.
CBC has written urgently to agents of affected applicants advising them of Natural England’s position and advising them that, for the time being, all applications where a positive decision / recommendation was / is to be made on an application will have to be delayed if they are within the Southern Water supply zone, until the matter of water neutrality can be addressed.
Southern Water and Natural England have been approached for comment.
Updates to follow.