Across my constituency, housing is generally the biggest local issue. One problem we have is that village neighbourhood plans are being undermined by developers.
On Monday I wrote to Mid Sussex District Council in response to its proposal to allocate 500 houses in Hassocks. I objected to this on the grounds that the development is unnecessary and unsustainable.
Hassocks is preparing its neighbourhood plan which recognises the need for new housing, but decides for itself where the development should go. This will be voted on by the village in a referendum. The proposed ‘strategic allocation’ by Mid Sussex, announced suddenly a few weeks ago, would bust this process. With this and other planned development, the size of Hassocks would increase by a third.
The village does not have the infrastructure to support development on this scale, and unsurprisingly there is huge local concern about the proposal. The development would erode the green space between Hassocks and Burgess Hill to just over half a mile.
Most of the local people who contact me accept the need for new homes, and these will be allocated in the village’s neighbourhood plan. But they want, as far as possible, to be in control of where the housing goes, and the amount to be manageable.
In fact, neighbourhood planning has delivered more housing than expected as communities accept responsibility for local provision. The process is a good one because it asks people what they want, rather than what they don’t want.
Developers, however, would much rather have a free-for-all. They game the system so that they don’t actually build when they have planning permissions and can then argue for more.
They have fought Mid Sussex District Council over its local plan, deliberately delaying it, and the Planning Inspector backed their demand for higher housing numbers. Now he has said that the council should increase its land supply for new homes. But in fact the council already has the required five-year supply, so its proposal to allocate new housing in Hassocks is unnecessary.
Everyone agrees that there is a need for new homes. It is a pity that one of the best means of providing these, neighbourhood planning, is being undermined. This is happening in Arun as well, and doubtless elsewhere in the country. We found a constructive and democratic means to provide new housing, putting communities in charge. Now we’re going back to the bad old days of speculative development and planning by appeal, a system that never delivered the homes people want.
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