The final part of the Lewes Local Plan will move ahead to inspection after a narrowly-won vote this week.
At a full council meeting on Monday (November 26), Lewes district councillors voted to sign off on the draft Lewes Local Plan Part 2 – a policy document intended to guide planning decisions within the district.
The final vote came down to the wire, with many opposition councillors calling for the plan to be rejected over the concerns of a number of residents.
The majority of these concerns related to policies on the use of land at East Quay in Newhaven and the creation of five permanent travellers’ pitches near Plumpton – known as policies E1 and GT01 respectively.
Calling on councillors to reject the draft plan over these concerns, Liberal Democrat group leader Sarah Osborne said: “I want to first of all thank all of the residents who have written to me about their deep concerns about the site allocation in Plumpton for a gyspy and traveller site.
“I share their views that the identified site is not suitable or sustainable on planning grounds.
“Despite the huge number of objections I have received I still did not find coming to the decision to vote against this an easy one. The phrase between a rock and a hard place comes to mind but I firmly come down on the side of voting against this plan.”
Cllr Osborne (Plumpton Streat East Chiltington & St John Without) also criticised the council’s portfolio holder for planning Cllr Tom Jones for not bringing a draft version of the plan to a council vote sooner.
Fellow Liberal Democrat Peter Gardiner (Ouse Valley and Ringmer), however, urged members not to reject the plan.
He said: “There is a lot in this plan which is excellent and we must all, I think, agree that a great deal of work has been put in to make it a suitable plan for the district.
“I would say that if you don’t accept this plan then you would be throwing away all the good items, including for example in Newhaven the development of West Quay.”
Cllr Gardiner also warned of development ‘being thrust upon us’ if the plan was not submitted.
Meanwhile Conservative councillor Julian Peterson asked members not to let ‘uncharitable thoughts’ guide their decision on the travellers’ site.
Cllr Peterson (Seaford East) said: “As has been said so clearly, the protests can be registered at planning and I rather think that would be the place for it.
“I have been told that these areas are very heavily licensed and inspected twice a week. I think no other group of people are subjected to licensing and checking up like this. I feel we should try to be open to this.
“If there are planning objections do it then but please don’t let any uncharitable thoughts be involved in the making of this decision.”
Earlier in the meeting councillors had heard from a number of public speakers in connection with the plan, including Caroline Standen of the Old Brickworks Business Park.
In a question to Cllr Jones, Ms Standen warned that her tenants would be ‘forced’ to relocate due to the proximity of the travellers’ site and asked for justification of the policy.
Cllr Jones (Con. – Ditchling and Westmeston) said: “You do not give a reason, nor does the council accept that there is a reason, why the policy should force residents to relocate.
“The council has a public sector equality duty which requires the council, as a matter of law, to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment.
“I want to point out too that allocating a site for a particular use is not the same as granting a planning permission.
“In the event of any planning permission coming forward the council would have the duty at that time to consult the neighbour and give further consideration to the impact of the proposed development on amenity of the immediate community.”
In response, Ms Standen said: “Maybe I haven’t made it quite clear. It is not that we are discriminating against these people particularly. Any development there would be a huge worry for us.
“What concerns me most is that this site has already been deemed unsuitable for residential development. Nothing has changed and yet, now I feel, we are suggesting it is suitable for gypsies and travellers. I don’t feel that is fair.”
Following a lengthy debate, councillors agreed to approve the draft plan for submission in a narrow recorded vote.
The final vote saw 18 councillors vote in favour, 17 vote against and a single councillor abstain.
After the meeting Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, who represents Plumpton, vowed to continue the campaign against the permanent traveller site in the village.
She said: “Despite this setback we are still a long way from spades in the ground and I intend to keep it that way. The Local Plan Part 2 needs approval from the Secretary of State, the council will need to buy the land with Government funding, and then the site would need planning permission. I intend to keep up the pressure on behalf of local residents who have overwhelmingly given me their views on this issue, and will fight these plans at every stage.”
She added: “I have written to the Secretary of State setting out my objections to the proposals and have called on him to reject the Lewes District Local Plan Part 2. I will also be seeking to meet with him as soon as possible to put across the strength of feeling in Plumpton over this issue. Many other sites were previously considered and have more merits than this site in Plumpton. I will do all that I can to prevent development on this site in Plumpton.”