Action defeats the Localism Act

I read with interest your article on “affordable homes” which gave details of steps being taken by Cllr Osborne to ascertain the views of Lewes people and businesses with the intention that the information will be considered as part of the review and will help establish recommendations as to the needs of Lewes District. The Government has recently enacted the “Localism Act”, the essence of which is to make the planning system clearer, more democratic and more effective.

Neighbourhood planning is supposed to provide a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community. Ringmer Parish Council has worked hard to obtain local views and has prepared a draft Neighbourhood Development Plan, which has been discussed with LDC. In contrast, Lewes Town clearly is only at the preliminary stage of holding meetings and gathering views of the residents.

I was somewhat dismayed and astounded when I learnt last week that the LDC had included in their strategic plan, under the excuse of needing to meet short term housing needs, a strategic allocation (on Greenfield land at present in agricultural use) of 120 new dwellings on land north of Bishops Lane, Ringmer. In addition, a further 100 are to be built in the area by 2030.

The LDC are well aware of the views of local residents, as these are clearly set out in the draft Neighbourhood Plan and indicate the number and type of houses and possible sites thought appropriate by the majority. The LDC also knows that as strategic policies take precedence, it is immediately and deliberately undermining the expressed views of Ringmer residents. This makes one wonder why the Parish Council and residents bothered at all. The Core Strategy does not even refer to the fact that the LDC knew that Ringmer had prepared its draft Neighbourhood Plan.

I question whether such an allocation by LDC to a specific site, in a manner which does not conform to the clearly expressed views of Ringmer residents, is a correct use of “strategic planning”. I would argue that this type of action immediately defeats the whole purpose and essence of the “Localism Act”. A strategic plan, whilst being area and subject specific, should fall short of identifying individual sites or detailed actions and should be after appropriate discussions.

The democratic rights of Ringmer residents, under the new legislation, have been ignored. This has all happened quickly, with the LDC submitting its Core Strategy to South Downs National Park Planning Committee on 8th November and it will be before the LDC Cabinet on 20th November. If it is approved, it will be open for public consultation for 10 weeks.

In my view, the LDC’s strategic plan, whilst assessing the broad needs and requirements of the whole area, should then leave Ringmer and other villages to allocate the specific appropriate sites and schemes, in accordance with the justified needs of the village, as set out in its Neighbourhood Plan. Anything less is an insult to the residents of Ringmer.

Jen Morse-Brown