Housing is one of the most significant issues of local concern in West Sussex.  It also presents a real challenge.

On the one hand, there is a very strong view, which I share, about the need to protect the countryside, preserve the character of our villages and prevent suburban sprawl.

Recent proposals for major developments - an eco-town at Ford and large-scale building at Adversane and to the west of Burgess Hill - were met with vocal local protests.

On the other hand, I remain concerned about the difficulty that young people have in getting their foot onto the property ladder and the change in the character of our villages when young people are forced to leave.

Many of us are agreed about the need for affordable housing for local people.  The difficult question is how to accommodate it sustainably.

The previous Government's central housing targets weren't the answer.  West Sussex was told to accommodate 74,000 new houses, equivalent to increasing the population of the county by a quarter, a number which was unrealistic and unsustainable.

This Government has proposed an entirely new approach.  We will scrap national housing targets and give local communities a greater say by drawing up their own neighbourhood plan.

Regrettably, through judicial review, a developer successfully opposed the immediate abolition of the housing targets.  The Localism Bill will override this by removing the targets, but until this becomes law, it appears that some developers are using the opportunity to sneak in speculative applications.

I'm particularly concerned by the proposals, for instance, to build 114 new houses in Pulborough and 51 new homes in Hurstpierpoint.

Quite apart from the impact on the environment, inappropriate development raises real questions about the adequacy of infrastructure such as water and transport links.  The village school in Hurstpierpoint, for instance, is already over-subscribed.

We cannot say no to any new housing.  What we can do is ensure that it is at an appropriate scale, affordable, sustainable and so far as possible built on the basis of local determination.

The Saxon Weald affordable housing development in Amberley, which I visited last year, is a good example of a successful scheme promoted with local consent.

I am unable to interfere in planning decisions for the very reason that these are local decisions, not ones for Parliament.  They should be taken responsibly by local communities, not imposed from on high.

Christopher N Howarth