More than 350 villagers packed out a school hall to address major concerns over greenfield developments that could turn the area into a suburban sprawl.
Storrington residents attended the meeting on Friday, June 28, at Rydon Community College to discuss the thrust of planning applications in the village, including the greatly opposed Melton Drive and Water Lane proposals.
A panel formed of key officials debated the role of the planning inspector; developers land banking; traffic and air pollution; the government revoking the district council’s authority; and creating a neighbourhood plan.
South Downs and Arundel MP Nick Herbert, Roger Smith from the Sussex branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, leader of the district council Ray Dawe, Storrington Parish Council chairman Anna Worthington-Leese and the County Times editor-in-chief Gary Shipton were all in attendance, chaired by Rupert Toovey, A Storrington resident and director of Toovey’s auction rooms in Washington.
Members of campaign groups and residents spoke of their fears that Storrington and other South Downs villages were being bombarded with speculative applciations which could destroy their communities.
Pressure on local infrastructure, on the village schools and health services was highlighted, as was the impact of more development on the area’s already poor air quality.
Pressures from Government over housing numbers was another concern that was raised, and leader of Horsham District Council Ray Dawe said he had spoken directly to the Minister and expressed his views.
Landbanking was a major concern expressed by members of the panel and public, who all felt action should be taken to prevent developers ‘land banking’.
Building a neighbourhood plan
The Government is ‘punishing communities’ by submitting applciations contrary to the wishes of local residents, said Roger Smith of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE).
He set the tone for the meeting with his introduction, in which he made the claim and said it was down to the 75,000-home target set by the South East plan that has since been revoked.
To relieve pressure on the unprotected parts on the countryside Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert urged communities to make use of ‘neighbourhood plans’, which he said under the Localism Act would allow residents to take a more active role in the planning process.
He said: “Villagers now have the opportunity to shape neighbourhood plans in accordance to the number that is given to them by the district council and say where that housing should go. Then that proposal is put to the whole village in a referendum.
“What I’m encouraging here is that you support the new process that we’re beginning to embark upon and say what you want, and don’t want.”
But Mr Herbert confirmed that did not mean all planning applications could be refused, as young people remain in need of affordable housing.
County Times editor in chief Gary Shipton concurred: “People have told me, yes we want more housing for our local people and we embrace it, but the green fields of West Sussex is what defines our community, what makes it special, why we choose to live here and why others want to come here.
“When you give neighbourhoods real genuine ownership over the development within their communities, and let them help shape it and determine the kind of housing they want, and where it should best go they will make it succeed.”
Land banking condemned
A villager has claimed that there is ‘ten years supply’ of granted developments as a result of ‘land banking’.
John Taylor of Melton Drive said: “The planning application process is not the bottleneck anymore. It’s the developers who are not building 7,000 outstanding permissions to build in the district - that’s ten years supply, so we have a pipeline of ten years now.”
Mr Dawe explained that the developers are stockpiling planning approvals once granted.
“On the five year land supply what is happening is that an inspector will say you need 650 houses times five, because that was the target under the South East plan. We’ve got 7,000 planning permissions, so that gives us about ten years’ supply, they then say over the last five years you didn’t develop 2,500 houses so then we have to add those on as well.”
Mr Herbert agreed that developers must be stopped from waiting around for the ‘value to go up’ before building.
“What we don’t want is to give developers permission and let them land bank them and wait for the value to go up, and then build when they feel like it,” he said.
Power of the planning inspector
The ‘undemocratic’ process by which planning decisions made by local councils were overruled by a single planning inspector was heavily criticised by the chairman of Storrington and Sullington Parish Council, Anna Worthington-Leese.
“By the time a planning application gets approved or refused it has been looked at by about 35 elected people who may say no,” she told the meeting.
“We then get one person, a paid employee who is not elected, swanning in for a couple of hours and overrules all of the elected members, and I find that totally and utterly undemocratic and in my view the whole system should be changed.”
Her views were echoed by other speakers who all spoke to their dispair that so many applciations rejected by local councillors were given the go-ahead on appeal.
Mr Herbert agreed that the Government should not go back to the days of ‘planning by appeal’, which he said ‘undermines the process’.
He added: “The role of the inspector is to apply the law. When ‘localism’ is fully applied the neighbourhood plan will fully decide the location of houses and will zone off other land that will be protected against that.”
Inspector recommends refusal of Melton Drive application
There was a moment of disbelief followed by a jovial applause as residents received news that the planning officer will ‘recommend refusal’ of the controversial Melton Drive application.
This positive announcement comes after Wates Development submitted a planning application to build 102 homes by Melton Drive, which received much criticism after the plans were exhibited to neighbouring residents in March.
Mr Dawe said: “Two primary reasons given is that there are too many houses and it’s out of keeping.
“They will now go to the planning committee, of which I’m a member, and they will decide whether to accept the recommendation or not.”
Uniting the parish councils
A ‘parish design’ and ‘community action plan’ has been formulated by Storrington and Sullington Parish Council to indicate local features that the community would like to preserve and a ‘wish list’ of items that the community would like to see done.
Council chairman Anna Worthington-Leese said she would like to feed these into the new neighbourhood plan, but needed the support of residents and preferably also the surrounding parishes.
She said: “This is not a five minute job and for that plan to stand it needs to pass a referendum, and to create that plan is quite a lot of work.
“The parish [council] is 15 volunteers and although we will lead that plan we cannot and should not do all the work. It’s meant to be a community plan, so we need you to help us create that plan.
“Once it’s created it has to pass a public referendum, if it doesn’t then we have to start all over again.
“We think because Storrington acts as a hub for the surrounding villages, we feel it will be more beneficial to do that plan in conjunction with the neighbouring parishes.
“We’ve had a meeting with Thakeham, West Chiltington and Washington and we’ve asked them to do a joint plan with us.
“Thakeham I believe have decided to do their own, but the others are still considering it.”
The remaining parishes have been asked to make a decision by Storrington’s next parish meeting on July 24. But, if the parishes refuse, Mrs Worthington-Leese assured that the parish will continue with their own plan.