An independent Planning Inspector has told Wealden District Council they have failed in their legal duty. The Council have been advised to withdraw the Plan and start over again.
Inspector Louise Nurser’s main concern is that the Council failed in their duty to co-operate with neighbouring authorities and Natural England, the government’s advisory body for the environment.
In particular, Miss Nurser felt there was “no meaningful discussion” with Eastbourne Borough Council regarding its inability to meet its housing need.
In her findings she cited four other neighbouring planning authorities which argued Wealden District Council had failed to meet its duty to co-operate with them in relation to air quality matters, cross boundary impacts on Special Areas of Conservation, Eastbourne’s unmet housing and employment needs, and strategic infrastructure.
Wealden’s new Local Plan restricted most of new housing to the southern half of the district, in order to protect the Ashdown Forest from car pollution as the population increases.
The Planning Inspector has said the Council’s method of estimating pollution from vehicles in the future was “lacking in scientific credibility”. Against the recommendation of Natural England and their own air quality advisers, Wealden District Council choose not to assume there would be technological improvements which would cut air pollution from vehicles in the future.
Unsurprisingly Wealden District Council is disappointed by the decision. The Leader of Wealden District Council, Councillor Bob Standley said:
Throughout the Local Plan process, we have always tried to find the right balance between the need for growth in housing and employment land, and the need to protect our unique environment.
Our approach to protect the environment has been supported by our Councillors and many of our residents.
Unfortunately, the Planning Inspector, following last summer’s Examination in Public of our Local Plan, has found that we put too great an emphasis on protecting the environment and that we need to do more to build houses in Wealden which our neighbouring councils cannot accommodate.
Regrettably, this will inevitably have impacts on our communities. We acknowledge that there is already significant pressure on infrastructure; such as roads, doctors, dentists, schools and sports facilities. A requirement to build more homes will only have a greater impact on those facilities, which will require further investment.
The Inspector’s role is to assess whether the Plan was prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements. Louise Nurser BA (Hons) Dip UP MRTPI reached her decision in October. As it is standard procedure not to release decisions or recommendations which may raise sensitivities and could be used to electoral advantage, her finding were withheld until after the General Election. This is why they have only been made public today (Monday 6th January).
A Local Plan sets-out the guiding principles used to determine development of an area, taking into account the local economic, social and environmental conditions.
Local planning authorities are required to make every effort to secure the necessary co-operation on strategic cross boundary matters before they submit their Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination.
Councillor Ann Newton, Deputy Leader and Planning and Development Portfolio Holder, added:
We are disappointed at the time taken to reach this decision and the resulting uncertainty created since these issues were discussed in May last year.
In recommending to withdraw our Local Plan and starting afresh, we will continue to do all we can to ensure that extra growth is accommodated in a way that is sensitive to the needs of existing residents. We will continue to strive for sustainable growth that provides infrastructure for our communities and is consistent with our commitment to become a carbon-neutral District.
Click to see a full copy of the Planning Inspector’s findings of the draft Wealden Local Plan.
Wealden District Council have said a new timetable for the Local Plan process will be discussed by the Local Plan Sub-Committee.