Just yesterday I was discussing how little sense it made to plan for the West Sussex coastal district separate from the north of the county, and today I was sent through the Mid Sussex decision on just that. The most important so far I think as it deals with no just cooperation within one MHA but between two overlapping and closely related HMA, that is Gatwick and Sussex Coastal. The underlying issue of course is whether Mid Sussex should have to plan for a new town to take Sussex Coastal overspill. Brighton have formally requested Mid Sussex to meet some of their need and Crawley. Adur and Lewes may do so in the future. Now it seems inevitable they will.
The response from the four coastal local planning authorities (submitted by Adur and Worthing Councils) concludes by suggesting that I should take a flexible approach and proceed with the examination ‘as this would enable the housing issues to be considered in detail’. Similarly one participant at the hearing session suggested I could adopt some form of sliding scale that would enable me to conclude that, although in his view the Council had not fully met the requirements of the duty, it had made sufficient progress to be deemed acceptable. There is no room for such flexibility in the legislation – either the requirement has been met or it has not and it is on that basis I have considered the evidence.
At the EM it was suggested that if the submitted District Plan (DP) (which covers the period up to 2031) were to be found sound, then it should be subject to an early review, which would be based on a thorough assessment of cross-boundary issues. However, the legislation on the duty does not provide for such an approach to be followed….
.The Council did not establish a robust framework within which ‘co-operation’ could be monitored – for example in terms of frequency, issues to be addressed, outcomes to be anticipated and bodies to be involved.
…the Council appears to have taken a rather ad hoc approach and relied on existing established meetings to give consideration to the duty. The Council argued that there is no specific requirement in the legislation to take a structured approach, and that is correct. However, the Council needs to demonstrate co-operation, co-ordination and continuous engagement and one way this may be achieved is through a more transparent process that can be appropriately managed and monitored….
In a Report to the Scrutiny Sub Committee for Planning and Economic Development (5th March 2013) entitled ‘Housing Numbers for the District Plan’ (EP31), paragraph 28 confirms that ‘discussions with neighbouring authorities need to continue over the next few months to clarify their
positions and agree mechanisms for addressing cross-boundary issues where practical and consistent with the strategy and objectives of the District Plan’.
Firstly there is no record of any significant ‘mechanisms’ having been agreed prior to the submission of the DP and secondly the officer appears to be precluding any discussions if they relate to issues that might conflict with the Council’s strategy and objectives of self-containment. Neither of
these factors add weight to the Council’s contention that it has met the duty…
Meetings have been held and doubtless appropriate issues have been discussed but it needs to be demonstrated
that appropriate conclusions have been drawn at those meetings and that the Councils have acted on those conclusions. It is inevitable that there will be difficult issues to address. An example is the situation regarding
the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between Mid Sussex and Lewes Councils, which was drafted over 18 months ago but which has not been signed. This does not indicate that a constructive approach has been adopted.
The evidence indicates that a number of local planning authorities in the area will be unable to meet their objectively assessed housing needs in a
sustainable way. Whilst I understand it is not always easy to take an active approach in terms of considering the needs of other local planning authorities and also that localism has a role to play in any deliberations, those factors should not be seen as a reason to take a back seat and rely on others to seek solutions to cross-boundary problems.
there is no indication in the submitted plan that
serious consideration has been given to the concerns that were voiced. The opportunity was there for the Council to conclusively demonstrate, one way or the other, that it had considered the concerns of nearby local planning authorities and drawn appropriate conclusions. However, there are no significant references in the DP to any cross-boundary issues. The meetings that have been held could not accurately be described as frequent and the evidence does not demonstrate that consideration of cross-boundary issues has been taking place from ‘initial thinking’.
No in-depth analysis of the issues facing the local planning authorities in the area has been undertaken and no robust assessment of how those
issues should be addressed has been prepared. The lack of commitment to seeking a way forward is demonstrated by the lack of progress on the Memorandum of Understanding between Mid Sussex and Lewes Councils.
Therefore in terms of fulfilling the duty I would describe the foundations upon which the approach of the District Council is based, as at best, shaky.
The Coastal West Sussex Strategic Planning Board (which represents Brighton and Hove, Adur, Arun, Chichester, Lewes, Worthing and the South Downs National Park) published, in May 2013, a Housing Study(Duty to Co-operate)12. I am unable to give full weight to the conclusions included within this Study because I have not tested the evidence on which it is based. However, I have no reason to doubt that it provides a reasonably justified indication of the situation because it pulls together
evidence from a range of other studies. This Study suggests that housing delivery over the period to 2031, across the Coastal Housing Market Area, is likely to be at least 20% below objectively assessed needs – equivalent
to at least 495 dwellings a year.
The Council argued that it hasn’t been clearly demonstrated by Brighton and Hove, for example, that it could not accommodate a higher level of housing development than is currently being proposed. I cannot draw a conclusion one way or the other because I have not seen all the evidence
but similarly the District Council does not appear to have made a robust assessment of the situation which it could have undertaken if it had collaborated with Brighton and Hove to seek an outcome of mutual benefit to all parties.
The evidence does not enable me to conclude that prior to the submission of the DP, Mid Sussex District Council gave satisfactory consideration to
meeting the unmet development needs (in particular in terms of housing) of nearby local planning authorities. The requirements of paragraphs 178 to 181 of the National Planning Policy Framework have not been met.
Therefore it is with regret that I must conclude that the Duty to Cooperate has not been met. As the Plan has not been based on effective joint working on strategic priorities and because currently there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the DP has been positively
prepared, there is also the risk that the Plan could be found to be not sound….
It must be emphasised that this does not mean that Mid Sussex should be expected to accommodate additional growth – that is not necessarily the case. What it does mean is that the Council should give detailed and rigorous consideration to the development needs of nearby authorities and draw robust conclusions with regards to whether or not any of those needs could be met in a sustainable way within the District, bearing in mind the environmental and other constraints that exist.
I understand that this is not the conclusion that the Council would have wanted and that there may be consequences in terms of the Council being unable to meet its 5 year housing land supply requirement. Nevertheless this cannot outweigh the need for effective joint working. I must advise the Council to withdraw the Plan, undertake a more rigorous assessment of cross-boundary issues and in so-doing ensure that it meets the requirements of the Duty to Co-operate, carry out the necessary consultation and re-submit the Plan as soon as possible.