Staffing crisis at the South Downs National Park sets back crucial plan

An early consultation on Petworth's neighbourhood plan which was struggling to meet the Local Plan deadline

An early consultation on Petworth's neighbourhood plan which was struggling to meet the Local Plan deadline

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A staffing crisis in the planning department at South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) has delayed work on the long overdue Local Plan which is set to govern development across the park for the next 25 years.

The plan which was time-tabled to be adopted in 2017, may leave land vulnerable as developers seek to take advantage of government pressure to build more houses.

Government planning inspectors have already highlighted the importance of setting emerging Local Plans in stone. In one planning appeal recently an inspector pointed out only ‘limited weight’ could be given to draft policies.

The Observer understands the staffing crisis will set the park’s Local Plan timetable back by almost a year.

At least one developer has been told it has been ‘paused’ because the park cannot cope with the workload.

The company was told by a senior park planning officer this could set the work back by some nine months. It has been told it cannot meet Local Plan officers to discuss specific development sites until December.

The SDNPA said: “We are currently recruiting to fill three positions in our planning policy team because of a combination of maternity leave and people moving on to new opportunities.

“This is likely to have an impact on the timetable for the Local Plan but we won’t know how much until new people are in post.

The South Downs National Park spokesman said the set-back gave communities the chance to catch up with work on their neighbourhood plans and avoid the danger of park officers taking them over.

“We are also keen to allow a number of neighbourhood plans currently in progress across the national park to reach a stage where they can be incorporated into the Local Plan.”

The Petworth neighbourhood plan steering group was struggling to meet the park’s April deadline and town council chairman Chris Kemp said: “If it is stalling we will be pleased because it takes the pressure off us.”

But he stressed the importance of completing the Local Plan.

“We do need it in place to give us a concrete policy to defend housing sites when developers come along with their own agendas.”

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