Wealden housing plans upheld by court

Ashdown Forest
Ashdown Forest

A consortium of landowners have failed in a High Court bid to tear up Wealden District Council’s housing plans for the next 16 years and force it to go back to the drawing board.

One of the country’s top judges dismissed the challenge brought by the group, known as Ashdown Forest Economic Development LLP, to the Council’s Core Strategy Local Plan (CSLP.)

The group claimed the Council, the South Downs National Park Authority and a Government planning inspector who had cleared it to be adopted had been too cautious and protective of the environment and nearby Ashdown Forest. However, Mr Justice Sales today rejected all of the group’s grounds of complaint.

He said the inspector’s reasoning had been ‘rational and compelling’ when he reached the conclusion the CSLP was sound and capable of adoption based on a housing requirement figure of 9,440 homes up to the year 2030, a figure adjusted from an initial 9,600.

The group claimed that the overall housing requirement fell significantly below the objectively assessed needs of the area and the 11,000 figure contained in the former South East Plan, which was revoked after the CSLP was adopted.

It alleged the inspector erred in accepting the Council’s contention that a risk of environmental damage to Ashdown Forest arising from the impact of nitrogen and nitrogen oxide pollution from traffic -referred to as nitrogen deposition - resulting from additional housing development meant the previously assessed need for 11,000 new homes could not be met.

However, the judge said: “He was entitled to conclude that Wealden District Council had produced sufficient evidence in relation to the risk of environmental harm to Ashdown Forest to justify the use of the smaller 9,600 housing figure in the Core Strategy.”

A major plank in the landowners’ argument was concern over the 7km no-build zone around the Ashdown Forest which they said seriously impacted on the area’s economic prosperity and affected schemes in the pipeline when it was introduced.

David Elvin QC, representing the consortium at London’s High Court, argued that the 9,440 figure was ‘irrational’ and the Council had failed in its legal requirement under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to produce a CSLP ‘in general conformity’ with the South East Plan. This meant, he argued, that it had to generally conform with the requirement to deliver 11,000 new homes by 2026.

When asked for their reaction a spokesman for the consortium said: “We have no comment to make at this time.”