‘Failing’ Arun local plan ‘is like watching a car crash in slow motion’

Several of Arun’s Independent councillors have written to the government asking it to intervene in what they call a ‘shambles’ of a local plan.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 4:12 pm
From the BEW masterplan. Artist’s impression looking over proposed development towards Westergate and Eastergate

Tony Dixon (Ind, Aldwick East) wrote to Robert Jenrick, minister for housing, communities and local government, outlining concerns over Arun District Council’s local plan.

Adopted in 2018, the plan outlines how growth will be achieved across Arun, which means it has a bearing on planning decisions, development and regeneration up to 2031.

A letter signed by Mr Dixon and his fellow Arun Independent councillors Hugh Coster (Aldwick East), June Hamilton (Pagham), Shirley Haywood (Middleton on Sea) and David Huntley (Pagham) claims that the ‘masterplan’ for Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate (BEW) is ‘not viable’ and A29 realignment is ‘not supported by evidence’.

Proposed Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate masterplan site

Mr Dixon’s letter reads: “How will replacing a level crossing at Woodgate and a mini roundabout at Eastergate with SEVEN roundabouts and the traffic generated by 4,300 NEW houses (the figure used in the WSCC exhibition/consultation literature) ‘create better connections into Bognor Regis’? Where is the evidence?”

The letter also raises concerns over the recent increase in housing planned in the BEW strategic area. 

It continues: “The BEW Masterplan sets out a vision to deliver up to 4,300 homes. This was endorsed at DCC [development control committee] on 25th November 2020. This would mean an additional 1,300 houses (30 per cent) – over and above the legally adopted ceiling. This, in spite of the fact that all reports, surveys etc. tested the location for up to 3,000 houses only.”

Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate are among a number of ‘strategic’ sites which were identified under the local plan. The sites aim to provide residential and commercial development locations to meet demand. 

Tony Dixon (right) pictured with fellow independent Hugh Coster

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has since responded to the Independent councillors’ concerns saying that the Secretary of State  ‘does not have the power to intervene’.

The letter reads: “Given that the Local Plan was adopted in July 2018, the Secretary of State does not have the power to intervene once it has been adopted by the council. I must therefore decline your request to intervene.”

Mr Dixon claimed that the ALP and associated ‘masterplans’ are ‘a car crash in slow motion’.

He said: “We wrote to the Secretary of State and we are going to respond to them with another letter pointing out all the other things that were left out of the first letter.

“The local plan is completely failing and it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.

“The fact that the government said it has no powers to intervene actually came as a surprise to us because we thought the government did have powers to intervene and we think it should be taken out of the council’s hands.

“If the government doesn’t have the power to intervene then do they just sit and watch plans fall apart?”

Mr Dixon added that any additional houses in the BEW strategic area, where he is a resident, would be ‘disingenuous’ and could ‘undermine public trust’.

He said: “The local plan very clearly sets a ceiling of 3,000 houses, so you can’t have it any clearer than that, and yet the council has presented to the development control committee a masterplan for 4,300 houses.

“It’s disingenuous, a breach of faith with the public and it completely undermines the planning process.”

However, current chair of the planning policy committee Ricky Bower (Con, East Preston) said the number of houses had ‘always been in the pipeline’ and that ‘taking houses out of the local plan’ in the BEW area would make finding another site necessary.

In a report to the Arun District Council’s planning committee on November 25, a senior planning officer advised members that the BEW masterplan allowed for ‘at least’ 3,000 homes.

The report read: “The framework masterplan will deliver a further 4,300 homes within its lifetime which will assist the Council in achieving 20,000 dwellings throughout the Local Plan period. This delivery will also allow for approximately 1,300 affordable homes to be delivered in the District.”

Council officers added that ‘capacity testing’ had taken place which demonstrated that ‘the site can comfortably accommodate an increased number of up to 4,300 homes’. 

Isabel Thurston (Green, Barnham) also expressed concerns over the impact of additional housing, saying: “I’m extremely alarmed about the extra housing numbers and the lack of infrastructure in Barnham. 

“The extra houses are proposed before the A29 is finished so this is going to make the traffic even worse.

“Whilst I didn’t want the road in the first place, half a road is worse than a full road. This will definitely add to the burden on the Barnham Road.”

The northern half of the realigned A29 was approved by West Sussex County Council in June, but it is ‘not completely known’ when phase two would come forward.

In a representation to the planning committee, Highways England said: “The junctions and associated agreed mitigations are highly unlikely to be suitable for the traffic demands placed upon them as a result of the significant increase in housing numbers.”

These concerns were refuted by Mr Bower who said that the A29 works would proceed at an appropriate pace alongside housing and have ‘unlocked’ government funding.

He said: “I have always taken the view from the outset of the Local Plan, that if Arun has to have a significant housing number, then they have to be located in areas of the district where contributions from developers can improve the quality of already existing infrastructure which is why the A29 is being realigned.

“We do tend to find that developers will progress the roads and not deliver them in quite the timeline that we would prefer but there are triggers in the agreements with developers which have to be delivered on. There cannot be ‘x’ number of houses delivered until ‘y’ has been delivered.

“As far as the road is concerned, it will be tied to a set number of houses that have to be delivered at the same time as the road.”

He added: “We have got funds for the A29 agreed with the local enterprise partnership so it’s a complete nonsense to say that all the housing is going to have to deliver the road and ‘it’s too expensive’.

“The government has always said it will assist funding of infrastructure to unlock the delivery of housing, that’s exactly what’s happening as far as the BEW sites are concerned.”