Lewes Council and National Park Local Plans in focus!

Both the South Downs National Park Local Plan and the Lewes District Council Local Plan Part 2 are in focus as 2018 closes: 

Lewes District Council area with boundary of SDNP show in red. CLICK TO ENLARGE

The District Council have just approved their controversial in parts,  Local Plan Part 2. Now it will be sent to the Secretary of State for examination. A planning Examiner will be appointed, who will hold public hearings later on in 2019. Residents will have an opportunity to submit evidence if they are opposed to the plan, either wholly or in part, and there will be an opportunity for the public to attend the Examiner’s public hearings.

The National Park are one stage ahead of the Lewes District Council as their plan is already being examined by the government, and there are currently public hearings taking place where those who wish to give evidence against the plan policies, either in part or wholly, will be able to submit their views. I asked the Government’s Examiner to ensure that there would be public hearings local to the Lewes area and not 45 miles away in Midhurst! He agreed with me. This local hearing  will take place between the 11th and 12th of December. Click here for more information.

Here are my comments on the district council’s local plan, part two, and some further information on the National Park plan:

Lewes District Local Plan Part 2

Here are my comments on the Local Plan Part 2 decision by the district council. The Liberal Democrats had asked me to investigate matters in detail and I concluded, after hours and hours investigation and discussion with officers that the plan was in supportable. As with most decisions in local councils the Liberal Democrats on Lewes district council do not operate a ‘three-line whip’. The vote on this plan as with many other things was a free vote. I believe this is as it should be.  The planning policy process is complex. It is made more complex by the Conservative government constant changing the baselines and rules. I’m happy to go into further details but for now here is my summary:

Please note: The plan which was debated on Monday night concerns the area outside the National Park (see map below). It does not affect Lewes town or many parishes.

Firstly, for those who are opposed to the plan there is still an opportunity to submit views on evidence to the government’s planning examiner when he/she is appointed next year. The Council will publish dates for the hearings.

Yes, the current approved plan with warts and all will go to the Secretary of State. An examiner will be appointed, and he/she will hold public hearings. This will give everybody an opportunity to reiterate their views on why the plan should not include certain designations like those at Tide Mills in Newhaven and about gypsy and traveller sites.

National Parks allover the country cut across District Council and county council boundaries. The objective of creating national parks was, in part, to give an even higher level of environmental and landscape protection for important areas (mainly to do with landscape). Lewes has some of the most iconic downland and it is quite right that they should be included in the National Park. Lewes Eye describes this as a strange ‘quirk of geography’ – it’s not that. The addition of the National Park does make planning a more complex process, but it is doing its job, to provide special protection for the downland environment.

It is correct to say that planning policy within the National Park is the responsibility of the National Park. Lewes District Council has the responsibility of planning policy outside the Park. the boundaries are shown in the diagram above with the National Park boundary outlined in red. Local Plan Part 2 covers the parishes to the north of the red line and the urban coastal towns to the south.

Because the National Park was only in its embryo stage after its formation in 2012 it was decided that there should be a Joint Core Strategy planning policy document for the whole of the Lewes district area including the National Park. This was developed by both authorities. That policy document is called ‘Part 1’. It was approved by the Secretary of State in 2016 and remains the planning policy for the whole area until it is reviewed in 2021.

National Park Local Plan

Now that the National Park is fully established, they have been developing a their own Local Plan. The final version of this plan has been sent to the Secretary of State. Currently the government’s examiner is holding public hearings on this plan. Local public hearings for the Lewes area will be held on: Tuesday 11th December and Wednesday 12th December at The AmexStadium, Falmer. See: https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/planning/national-park-local-plan/local-plan-examination/  Once this plan is adopted the National Park policies along with those contained in the joint core strategy policy document will supersede any previous documents.

It is a complicated plan, but not, as Lewes Eye thinks, a rotten one. The government’s planning examiner accepted when Part 1 was developed that there should be a Part 2 which would specifically deal with outstanding land allocations outside the National Park. The development plan was largely drawn up by officers, but I think the real problem was the shortage of time because of changes in government planning policy (NPPF) which has forced council to submit their plan before 24 January 2019. The decision this month means to say they will meet that target. If Lewes hadn’t met the target for Part 2, they would have had to completely revise Part 2 in order to meet new requirements of planning policy published by this Conservative government in July 2018. I don’t think there was a desperate need to make changes to the government’s NPPF and it has thrown lots of local authorities into difficulties. This new NPPF reflects the government’s constant drive to allow more land for building houses.

I think along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues,that the Conservatives are going about it in the wrong way. Allocating land for housing and hoping that commercial developers will develop it means to say thousands of acres get blighted without even a house being built. It does allow more land for housing, but developers are using it to build million-pound executive homes which local communities can’t afford and don’t want!

If the government was serious about solving the housing crisis, they would allow local councils to build social and council housing and support many housing trusts that want to provide housing for low income families.

The other difficulty which the council have had to take into consideration is that there was a ministerial statement by this Conservative government about Neighbourhood Plans saying that any plan which is more than 2 years old in November 2018 would have to do be reviewed. I think this was a bonkers approach.Neighbourhood plans were designed to become part of the larger Local Plans in the area and as such should remain protected until the main plan must be reviewed.

As far as the detail of the Local Plan Part 2 – I don’t think it’s all wrong. I think there are 2 aspects which were not dealt with adequately in the lead up to the council meeting:

The Gypsy and Traveller site at Plumpton:

Many years ago, the government decided that it would give the responsibility of provision of these sites to District Councils and unitary authorities. The government decided that local authorities had no choice, and that they would HAVE to provide these.However, assessing the number of sites was given over by the government to a quasi-government body which doesn’t seem to be answerable to anyone. This means that when a council does a Local Plan it HAS to provide the number of ‘pitches’as laid down by this quasi-government body. The problem is that landowners are very reluctant to volunteer their land for such purposes. In the case of Lewes district 5 pitches were required outside the National Park and 8 inside the National Park.

Over the past few years no one seems to have come forward to volunteer the 5 pitches. I don’t know how much effort the council put into finding these pitches, but the Plumpton site didn’t come up until very late in the day. As far as I can see it went straight into the plan which was put before members in September so that it could go straight out for public consultation. This late stage addition gave little or no time for councillors to understand whether or not the site was actually suitable or quiz the officers on what alternative sites had been investigated over the last 2 years.

I believe that because gypsy and traveller sites are so emotive that the matter of finding gypsy and traveller sites should have been highlighted at every opportunity by the council over the last 3 years. By not mentioning it except in a single paragraph in the Local Plan Part 1 in 2016, without identifying a site,naturally people forgot about the issue.

I voted against the Local Plan Part 2 because I felt the consultation process leading up to the allocation of this site was completely inadequate.

Newhaven:

As far as Newhaven is concerned, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand all the complex issues associated with planning permissions which had been given by the County Council and the District Council over the last 2 years as well as the mapped designations. After 3 or 4 visits and many hours of study I concluded that the E1 allocation in Newhaven did not describe adequately the current planning and geographical issues nor did it clearly lay out what the industrial and countryside designations would be if the plan was approved. I agree with Lewes Eye on this point – it was a bit of a mess. Accordingly, I could not find a reason to support the plan with such a confusing and out of date section.

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