Wealden local plan to go out to consultation
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At an extraordinary meeting held on Thursday (February 8), district councillors agreed for the authority’s latest draft local plan to go out to a formal “regulation 18” consultation, which will see residents asked for their views on what the final version of the document should address.
The scope of the draft local plan is significant, setting out areas where development could take place over the next 15 years or more, alongside a wide range of policies intended to guide what form that development takes.
It also sets out a framework for how 15,729 new homes (including 8,113 which already have planning permission) could be built within the district between October 2023 and March 2040. While a significant target, this figure falls well below the government’s requirement to build 19,800 new homes over the same period.
Ian Tysh, the Green Party’s cabinet portfolio holder for planning and environment, said: “I would like to stress that this is a draft plan, not the final version. It will not be in the form it is in now when it is sent to the inspector.
“It is bound to change for the reasons set out in my report — policy changes, possible changes of government, the evidence still being gathered and so on — but also because we will be running, from early March, a genuine positive consultation.
“This is not a tick box exercise or going through the motions.”
Cllr Tysh also urged residents to give feedback on elements of the plan they liked as well as those they don’t, arguing it would allow such policies to influence planning decisions before the plan is fully adopted.
Council leader James Partridge (Lib Dem) said: “The alternative of not having a plan doesn’t mean the development won’t happen. It means the seemingly endless stream of speculative planning applications will continue.
“The sites about which concerns have been raised today will still be in play, along with many others. We would continue to have very little say in the quality of what is built, where it is built and what it looks like.”
He added: “Saying yes [to the consultation] does not irrevocably commit to anything, except asking people what they think. Saying no puts us back to square one.
“If we say yes today, Wealden has choices. If we say no it doesn’t.”
The consultation is due to begin in March and last for eight weeks. It will include a number of public exhibitions, with the first of these due to be held at Hailsham’s Civic Community Hall on March 23.
While councillors agreed for the consultation to go ahead, the decision was not reached without some controversy.
Wealden’s Conservatives walked out of the meeting in protest of what the group described as a “corruption of process”.
The protest was sparked by advice given to councillors ahead of the meeting about how some personal circumstances — such as owning properties affected by sites allocated within the local plan — could lead them to having pecuniary interests which prevented them from taking part in the debate.
It is understood that two Conservative members were advised they would have such pecuniary interests.
In a press statement released after their walkout, a spokesman for the Conservative group said: “The prospect of a significant number of democratically-elected opposition councillors being forced to abstain from voting on the Wealden Green/Lib Dem Coalition Local Plan is an utter travesty for local democracy and the residents they represent.
“Due to this corruption of process, the Wealden Conservative Group have collectively withdrawn from the process until we have assurances from officers that we will not be prosecuted from voicing our residents’ concerns on the draft plan.”
The statement went on to say how Conservatives disagreed with the housing targets and allocated sites set out in the draft plan, saying it would “impose hundreds and thousands of houses on unsustainable communities”.
Following the walkout, Independent councillors Ben Reed and David White declared pecuniary interests, which prevented them from taking part in the debate or voting.
In light of councillors’ concerns, chief executive Trevor Scott sought to clarify the advice given, stressing how ‘simply owning a house in the district’ would not be enough to trigger a pecuniary interest.
The Conservative walkout saw criticism from other political groups, including Labour’s Daniel Manvell.
Cllr Manvell said: “Members may or may not know that I am actually 24, so our existing local plan was introduced well before I was born and was out-of-date by the time I started primary school. It is no wonder that planning inspectors give it little weight in the planning balance.
“It doesn’t take into account today’s needs and it was never supposed to. It is obviously time that we retired these outdated policies and looked to the future rather than the past and it is really disappointing that the Conservative members here today have decided they don’t want ot engage in that.
“They would rather remain stuck 30 years ago than look positively to what we can do in the future.”