National Planning Policy

This week the Government published a further round of planning reforms, reflecting its determination to build more houses.

As I said when I spoke to representatives of parish councils at the West Sussex Association of Local Councils’ Spring Conference in Walberton, it is important to understand the context.

The average house price in England is now nearly eight times average income, and families in their early 30s are now only half as likely as their parents to own their own home.  Rents are correspondingly high, too.

This is both unfair and a risk to the economy.  It is why the Government is committed to increase housing supply to 300,000 a year by the mid-2020s. 

Last year saw the biggest increase for almost a decade – over 217,000 new homes – but there is further to go.

There were some good things in the proposals, such as measures to ensure that developers actually build and do not ‘bank’ planning permissions.

And in the Commons, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid assured me that the measures give greater strength to neighbourhood plans.

But there is also a new standard methodology for calculating housing need that will increase numbers by 20 per cent over existing local plans in Arun, Chichester, Horsham and Mid Sussex districts.

At the Conference, I pointed out that West Sussex is already playing its part.  The change will mean overall new housing numbers are now 50 per cent higher than the level set by Gordon Brown, and nearly twice as high as the number envisaged by the draft South East Plan.

It is essential that we have the infrastructure to support development on this scale, both local - such as sufficient school places and capacity in GP surgeries - and major infrastructure such as the A27 upgrade.

The preferred route for the Arundel bypass will be announced this year.  There has been some speculation that protections for ancient woodland included in this week’s planning update will stop the bypass, but this is not so.

The protections already existed, and the policy makes it clear that nationally significant infrastructure such as the Arundel bypass can go ahead even at the cost of some woodland, provided the benefit outweighs the loss and there is mitigation.

I am confident that an offline bypass will be approved because it is so clearly needed.  The environment is currently being damaged by congestion at Arundel which causes rat-running through the historic town and the South Downs National Park.

Joe Coombes