Senior Arun councillors face calls to resign this morning from more than 150 residents dismayed by what they say is the ‘spectacular failure’ of the district’s local plan.
An open letter signed by 159 residents urges Arun District Council leader Gill Brown and cabinet member for planning and infrastructure Ricky Bower to step down.
The letter follows the likely suspension of the local plan for up to 18 months – a lengthy delay required for further work on updated housing targets.
The letter reads: “The council has been invited by the inspector to suspend the local plan for a period of 12-18 months in order to bring forward modifications. This constitutes the spectacular failure of a plan, over nine years in the making, and still a long way from completion.”
In response, Mr Bower said the inspector had not found the plan ‘unsound’ but ‘basically incomplete’, while officers and members were still digesting the ramifications of his recommendations.
He added the council approved the submission of the plan last September by recorded vote, with 37 out of the 56 councillors in favour, 12 abstaining and two against. Mr Bower said: “I’m not going to respond with a knee-jerk reaction to this letter. I like things to be seen through and I am going to see it through.”
The local plan sets out the district’s vision for housing and employment until 2031.
It sets a target for the number of homes which should be built each year – a figure known as ‘objectively assessed needs’ (OAN).
Arun’s plan set a target of 580 homes per year, a figure it raised to 641 in June after new statistics emerged. It wanted to suspend the plan for six months, in order to commission further work on the updated numbers.
But after the plan was submitted, yet another set of statistics were released by the Government, setting the actual number at more than 750 homes per year. The council decided against working towards the 758 figure – despite accepting this was the latest data at a recent planning appeal.
Discussing the issue at a series of public hearings in June, critics of the plan argued this meant it was legally unsound.
Following the hearings, inspector Roy Foster wrote to the council last Wednesday, advising it suspended the plan for up to 18 months.
He advised the authority to work towards the 758 homes per year target.
The local plan sub-committee agreed to recommend the suspension to full council at a meeting on Thursday.
Mrs Brown said the council had ‘every confidence’ the plan would have met the inspector’s approval.
She said: “It is highly unfortunate that our journey towards plan adoption has been blown off course by the council having to respond to the latest household projections from the Office of National Statistics.
“We are obviously disappointed with this outcome that the local plan now has to accommodate a much higher level of housing provision, but we need to respect the inspector’s conclusions.”
Arun Liberal Democrats have criticised the handling of the matter as a ‘shambles’.
Deputy leader Dr James Walsh said he supported the residents and the reasons given for the resignation calls.
He said: “By their lengthy procrastination over this matter over the last five years, Arun’s Tory leadership has left us in the worst possible position. We have no adopted local plan, and it now may take months, or longer, to get one.”
Arun Lib Dem leader Francis Oppler, meanwhile, said the duo should take ‘complete responsibility’ for the situation.
The open letter in full:
“We are concerned that Arun District Council is failing to provide an acceptable level of service when it comes to strategic planning and that it also lacks the leadership capability necessary to secure improvements.
The council has been “invited” by the inspector to suspend the local plan for a period of 12-18 months in order to bring forward modifications. This constitutes the spectacular failure of a plan, over nine years in the making, and still a long way from completion. This is on top of the recent failure of the St Modwen proposals for Bognor Regis.
It has been estimated that something in the region of £2.7 million may have been spent (wasted?) so far on these two failed projects. This is unacceptable.
Through its actions and continual delays, the council has created circumstances in which every community in the district is now vulnerable to planning by appeal.
It is time for those responsible to be held to account for their part in this failure of strategic planning.
We call on cllr Mrs Brown, The leader of the council and cabinet member for council strategy and cllr Bower, cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, both of whom have held their respective offices for over nine years, to resign with immediate effect, in order to allow new leaders to come forward and initiate a fresh start for the district.”
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