The meeting was to review the latest changes to the draft local plan and additions to the evidence base. This plan’s most controversial content is the proposal for over 2,000 houses to be built between the villages of Eastergate and Barnham on mainly greenfield land, thereby creating a New Town in the countryside. This proposal goes against Government policy in the new NPPF which states that all available Brownfield land should be used first.
The tone and character of the meeting was distinctly different from all of the previous meetings I have attended. This time it seemed that Councillors were really keen to challenge the justifications behind many of the proposals. Cllr Mrs Jean Goad kicked off the questioning by raising the issue of the Green Gaps between villages and settlements. In particular the proposal to fill the long-established gap between Eastergate and Barnham with houses and roads that form part of the 2000 house New Town. Cllr Gillian Brown, Council Leader, also questioned the proposal to infringe the Bognor to Chichester gap around Chalcraft Lane. After some discussion Cllrs voted to defer consideration of these gaps to a debate at next week’s meeting on 16th May.
Councillors concerns about the content of the draft local plan were again demonstrated when they were merely asked to “note” detail changes to the wording of the draft plan. All councillors insisted that the minutes reflect the fact that the only house build rate that has been approved by this committee is 400 hpa not the 700 hpa currently written in the document. Resolution of this issue was again deferred to the debate at the 16th May meeting.
This really was a very significant split as it clearly showed serious concerns within the Local Plan Sub-Committee about the building rates proposed. The figure of 400 houses per annum would not require massive building at Eastergate/ Barnham. The house build rates are central to how the Local Plan unfolds.
Councillor Ricky Bower, the cabinet member responsible for the Local Plan, commented that at a recent meeting of the Regional Planning Board, he had reserved Arun’s position on the Duty to Cooperate with neighbouring councils because of growing disquiet with the veracity of the data in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment that provides the primary evidence supporting the decision on housing numbers. He reminded the meeting that agreement had not yet been reached on either the required housing numbers or the locations of the large strategic housing allocations like the 2000 at Barnham, Eastergate & Westergate.
A final important point was raised by Cllr John Charles who registered further disquiet with proceedings by prompting a vote to add a minute recording that this committee has not yet approved the proposed A29 re-alignment at Westergate.
So, all in all a very sparky meeting at Arun District Council offices. The residents of the threatened Villages can now at least feel that their case is being heard in the corridors of power and the supporting Councillors are determined to challenge what many see as an unfair and unjustifiable targeting of a greenfield rural area for large scale house building when the need has not been confirmed by the evidence.