Well Done to Wealden – Sound Plan in Very Difficult Circumstances
I was too busy in December on setting up new businesses here in Uganda to congratulate Wealden on having its plan found sound by in interdependent inspector. (note the plan covers part of the South Downs National Park).
I worked with them on the locations for strategic development and I was very glad to find all but one of my recommendations for strategic development areas were upheld. The exception was a site at Heathfield (a small town surrounded by AONB – tightly) where the inspector recommended, being a major development in an AONB, that the location of 150 houses to meet local need be determined in a future DPD, though after 5 years of search by the LPA and the local community I cant see any cannnot see out of the hat alternatives suddenly emerging over and above the very low windfall rate of previously developed sites in the town. The LPA had made a tactical mistake perhaps arguing that it was not a ‘major development’ in national terms. Some Devon LPAs by contrast have got through similarly sized urban extensions in core strategies arguing they were major development and alternative locations had been thoroughly explored.
The report is of wider interest perhaps in wanting to allocate more land but having been prevented by its constraints, possibly the greatest of any LPA in England, the impact on AONB, the South Downs National Park and European sites: the Ashdown Forest SPA, where road pollution from additional housing is the key issue in the north of the district, and waste water impacts on the Pevensey levels Ramsar site is the key constraint in the South of the District. So the inspector accepted the argument that the South East Plan housing trajectory (which didn’t fully take into account these constraints) was not quite achievable and that this was in line with the NPPF as development harming European sites does not enjoy the presumption.
The key sections from the interim findings
In accordance with the judgement in Persimmon Homes (Thames Valley) v StevenageBorough Council ‘general conformity’ leaves some scope for flexibility. Nonetheless, the difference between the levels of housing provision,[between teh Sourth East plan and the proposed plan] is so significant that on the face of it the legal test would not be satisfied . However, the SEP does provide for circumstances in which its housing provision would not be met. SEP Policy NRM5 indicates that when deciding on the distribution of housing allocations local planning authorities should consider a range of alternative distributions within theirarea and should distribute an allocation in such a way that it avoids adversely affecting the integrity of European sites. In the event that the planning authority concludes that it cannot distribute an allocation accordingly, or otherwise avoid or adequately mitigate any adverse effect, it should make provision up to the level closest to its original allocation for which it can be concluded that it can be distributed without adversely affecting the integrity of any European site. The supporting text states that where provision is less than in the RS the Council will need to demonstrate at independent examination that this is the only means of avoiding or mitigating any adverse impacts on European sites. This will involve clearly showing that they have attempted to avoid adverse effects through testing different distribution options and that the mitigation of impacts would be similarly ineffective.[The inspector accepts that this is met]
The CS should make provision up to the level closest to its original SEP allocation for which it can be concluded that it can be distributed without adversely affecting the integrity of any European site. The Council has clarified its approach to phasing with a series of suggested
modifications to the plan, linking phasing directly to the provision of [waste water] infrastructure. This should ensure that new housing can be brought forward once infrastructure matters are resolved and assist in providing an adequate housing land supply.
For those Local Plans affected by the Rye Meads SPA constraint – take note.
Of course if you were wishing to build one extra affordable home in Uckfield and found you had reached the SPA impact ceiling you might find the NPPF absolute prohibition on sites which ‘harm’ hover small european sites, against the total permissiveness of the NPPF on harm which does not affect european sites or ionterests or nationally designated areas, even if that harm is much greater, slightly ridiculous. I could not possibly comment.
BTW there is a mistake in the inspectors report saying one possible strategic site NW of Eastbourne (the one David Dimbelby lives next to and previously included in a never adopted local plan) was not included in Issues and Options consultation. Itb was but it stated the firm reasons, later upheld on a recovered appeal, why it should be rejected at an early stage in favour of other options.