Minister suspends permission for Fontwell development

The Government has instructed Arun District Council not to grant planning permission for 400 houses at Fontwell, pending a decision on whether the Secretary of State should determine the application himself.

The Secretary of State, Greg Clark MP, suspended Arun’s controversial decision on Tuesday 8 December after Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert urged him to ‘call in’ the matter on the grounds that the development contradicts a neighbourhood plan.

The Secretary of State has the power to determine planning applications which raise significant national issues himself even if they have been decided by a planning authority, provided that the decision has not been issued.

Arun District Council's Development Control Committee decided on Wednesday 25 November to allow 400 houses to be built on 18 hectares of greenfield land in Fontwell.

Following a meeting with local district councillors and parish council chairmen on Friday 4 December, Mr Herbert wrote to the Minister of State for Housing and Planning to request that he ‘call in’ the decision.

The MP said: “I believe that this is an issue of national significance which requires your attention because the decision to grant planning approval is contrary to a ‘made’ neighbourhood plan.”

Mr Herbert explained that the site, on land East of Fontwell Avenue, lies across two parish councils.  Part of it sits in the parish of Eastergate where the joint Barnham and Eastergate Neighbourhood Plan was approved in a referendum on 2 July 2014 with a 95 per cent 'yes' vote.  

The Plan was 'made' on 16 July 2014 and provides for at least 60 new homes on top of some 160 existing permission since 31 March 2013.  The total was in accordance with the indicative allocation from Arun District Council.

The other part of the site lies in the parish of Walberton.  The Walberton, Binsted and Fontwell Neighbourhood Plan is now in its final consultation stage, and Mr Herbert argued is therefore an emerging plan to which appropriate weight should have been given in consideration of speculative applications.  

Arun District Council had previously identified the Fontwell site as a possible strategic site from 2025 for the latter part of their plan period if other sites in their Local Plan could not deliver.  However, the MP pointed out that Arun's draft Local Plan has been suspended by the Planning Inspector and the Council is now having to review its Objectively Assessed Needs (OAN), and conduct a new round of Sustainability Appraisals.

Mr Herbert said: "The Government has made great effort to promote neighbourhood plans and localism.  It clearly runs completely contrary to national policy to undermine a made neighbourhood plan by allowing a large speculative development on land that has not formally been allocated by the district council as a strategic site."

The MP pointed out that the Barnham and Eastergate Neighbourhood Plan stated that it “… gives local people the power to decide where new housing should go” and he argued that “if this is to mean anything, this speculative development cannot be allowed.  I hardly need to tell you how damaging it is to the reputation of localism to see a neighbourhood plan so swiftly subverted in this way.”

The Secretary of State will now decide whether or not to determine the planning application himself, or whether to allow Arun to make the decision.

 

ENDS

 

Notes

   1.   The letter from DCLG to Arun District Council can be read here http://www.nickherbert.com/data/files/151208_DCLG_letter_to_Arun_DC.pdf.

   2.    Nick Herbert’s letter to Brandon Lewis;

I am writing to request that you 'call in' a decision made by Arun District Council Development Control Committee on Wednesday 25 November - WA/22/15/OUT- to build 400 houses on 18 hectares of greenfield land in the small village of Fontwell in my constituency.

I believe that this is an issue of national significance which requires your attention because the decision to grant planning approval is contrary to a ‘made’ neighbourhood plan.

This request is urgent because the decision has been taken by the Committee but not yet issued.  I understand that you are still able to recover such applications.

The site lies across two parish councils.  One part lies in the parish of Eastergate.  The joint Barnham and Eastergate Neighbourhood Plan was approved in a referendum on 2 July 2014 with a 95 per cent 'yes’ vote.  The Plan was made on 16 July 2014.  The Plan provides for at least 60 new homes on top of some 160 existing permission since 31 March 2013.  The total was in accordance with the indicative allocation from Arun District Council.

The other part of the site lies in the parish of Walberton.  The Walberton, Binsted and Fontwell Neighbourhood Plan is now in its final consultation stage, and is therefore an emerging plan to which appropriate weight should be given in consideration of speculative applications.  Yet the Arun District Council officers’ report recommending approval of the application (http://www1.arun.gov.uk/PublicViewer/Tempfiles/df748f721614493.pdf) stated: 

"Whilst the Neighbourhood Plan is a material consideration in the determination of the application, given that it is at such an early stage of preparation, minimal weight can be given to this as a planning policy document ….  Your officers have afforded policies within the draft Walberton Plan minimal weight at this time.” 

Effectively no weight was given to the draft Neighbourhood Plan at all.

Although this site had belatedly been identified by Arun District Council as a possible strategic site from 2025 in the later part of their plan period if other sites in their Local Plan could not deliver, it should be stressed that Arun's draft Local Plan has been suspended by the Planning Inspector.  Since the Council is having to review its Objectively Assessed Needs, and conduct a new round of Sustainability Appraisals, its current identification of possible strategic sites to meet this need cannot be relied upon.  The Council officers' report was therefore wrong to rely heavily on the identification of this site as a potential strategic site in a draft Plan.  In doing so they appear to have pre-determined Arun's own Plan and strategic site allocation.

The Government has made great effort to promote neighbourhood plans and localism.  It clearly runs completely contrary to national policy to undermine a made neighbourhood plan by allowing a large speculative development on land that has not formally been allocated by the district council as a strategic site.

Section 1.2.3 of the Barnham and Eastergate Neighbourhood Plan states:

  1. "The Plan gives local people the power to decide where new housing should go and how the villages could change.  Without the Plan Arun District Council would make these decisions on behalf of the people of Barnham and Eastergate."

If this is to mean anything, this speculative development cannot be allowed.  I hardly need to tell you how damaging it is to the reputation of localism to see a neighbourhood plan so swiftly subverted in this way.

I would be very grateful for your urgent attention to this matter.

   3.   Further information on the call-in process can be found here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00930/SN00930.pdf.

   4.   To read the Arun District Council officers’ report recommending approval of the Fontwell application, see http://www1.arun.gov.uk/PublicViewer/Tempfiles/df748f721614493.pdf.

   5.   Read Nick’s news about the planning guidance changes to give weight to emerging neighbourhood and local plans, ‘MP welcomes very helpful planning changes in West Sussex’ see http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/510/mp-welcomes-quotvery-helpfulquot-planning-changes-in-west-sussex.

Michelle TaylorPlanning, Fontwell