Draft Wealden local plan clears another hurdle

The impact of development on Ashdown Forest has delayed the process in putting together a draft Wealden Local Plan
The impact of development on Ashdown Forest has delayed the process in putting together a draft Wealden Local Plan

A major planning document setting out the future of development in Wealden is one step closer to publication after gaining the support of councillors.

At a joint meeting of Wealden District Council’s planning north and south committees on Friday (July 6), committee members gave their support to the draft Wealden Local Plan, requesting that it be put forward for a full council vote on July 18.

If approved later this month, the plan will then be put out for an eight-week public consultation and eventually be submitted to the planning inspector.

The recommendation follows a long delay to Wealden’s local plan process as the council sought further evidence about the impact of development on the Ashdown Forest and other SACs (Special Area of Conservation) in the district.

Speaking at the meeting, the council’s cabinet member for planning and development Ann Newton said: “I don’t want this to be a threat in anyway but the Secretary of State and all those sort of people do want to see a plan going forward.

“We are not currently on the ‘naughty step’, if I can use that phrase, with the planning inspector but I think if we delayed we potentially would be.

“I feel very strongly if we don’t go forward we may be put on that naughty step. Ultimately the Government could take our planning decisions out of our hands and make them for themselves. I would not want that to happen.

“Even though some of the decisions we have to make are very hard for us and our residents, I would much prefer that we did it rather than someone else.”

The revised plan now includes measures designed to protect the natural environment in Wealden and to mitigate the effects of development by reducing nitrogen levels in East Sussex.

The draft plan also includes a number of built-in safeguards, which would trigger a review of the policies in the document if certain conditions – such as the environmental mitigation – are not met.

The conditions include the guaranteed delivery of vital infrastructure, including improvements to both the district’s transport network and the Hailsham Waste Water Treatment Works.

In its current form, the plan allocates the development of 14,228 dwellings for various areas of the district between 2013 and 2028. This is made up of 5,307 dwellings with existing planning permission, 4,012 dwellings on allocated sites and 2,516 windfall dwellings, with the remaining homes already completed.

The vast majority of these dwellings have been allocated to the South Wealden Growth Area – which includes Hailsham, Stone Cross, Hellingly, Polegate and Willingdon – although significant developments are also set for Ninfield, Horam, Heathfield, Mayfield and Wadhurst.

While the majority of the committee agreed to support the draft local plan – only one abstained from voting – many of the members were critical of the specific sites or areas chosen for development within the document.

Many of the members also asked for amendments to details of included in the draft plan.