Following expressions of concern by parishioners over the growing number of houses being granted planning permission and being built in our district, Chiddingly Parish Council set up a working group (WGOD) in June 2021 to consider these concerns. The working group was also tasked to collect information and to make recommendations on how to address the impact of existing and proposed developments in Chiddingly, the surrounding villages and towns, and Wealden’s rural habitat.
The WGOD published two articles in the August (click for article) and September (click for article) issues of the Chiddingly parish magazine outlining the problem and its magnitude, whereby from 450 new houses that Wealden was required to deliver, by 2020 the government’s demand had climbed to 1,225 new houses each year.
In October 2021, representatives from the WGOD proposed to six neighbouring Parish Councils (which, together with Chiddingly they form Wealden’s East Central Cluster) to join forces in expressing our frustration and opposition to the irreversible loss of green fields and countryside from the overwhelming housing development that is being promoted by the government.
The WGOD published a further article in the November (click for article) issue of the Chiddingly parish magazine outlining its findings and criticisms on the method devised by the government to allocate housing requirements district by district across England.
In November 2021 the Parish Councils of Chiddingly, East Hoathly with Halland, Hellingly, Heathfield and Waldron, Horam, Laughton and Warbleton unanimously agreed to send a letter to The Rt. Hon. Michael Gove, MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities expressing our concerns about the pressure our district is being put under in order to fulfil the government’s targets for new housing. In the letter, that was sent on 6 December 2021 (click for letter), we asked the Minister to review the planning requirements which place the councils under intense pressure to approve unsustainable planning applications in unsustainable locations with no access to public services, transport or everyday necessities such as schools, healthcare or work.
On the 17 December 2021 we received a wordy reply from an anonymous Ministry official (click for letter), which skillfully avoided to address the substance of the issues raised in our letter. On the 20th of December 2021 we reverted with a further message to the Ministry: noting that we understood that the Minister had a productive meeting with the Leaders of Wealden District Council on the 10th of December discussing the same subjects contained in the letter of the seven parish councils; and concluding that “we wanted to be sure that the reply we received fully reflects Mr Gove’s current thinking”. On 12 January 2022 we were informed by the Ministry that our original letter had been forwarded to Mr Gove’s office.
On 17 and on 20 December 2021 we wrote to all 42 Wealden Parish and Town Councils (click for letter) inviting them to join our effort to convince central government to modify their planning policies that are having a devasting effect on the communities that we represent. The WGOD also announced its intention to call a meeting, possibly in February 2022 to discuss a collective approach on how to prevent over-development in Wealden and plan how best to influence government housing policy.
WGOD published a further article in the January 2022 (click for article) issue of the Chiddingly parish magazine outlining the developments that had taken place in the last two months and also noting that the group had written to Mrs Nus Ghani, MP for our area, on 20 September and again on 21 November. As our MP contributes regular articles to our parish magazine, the group had requested her to use one of her articles to discuss her viewpoint on the government’s current housing policy and our concerns. However, as no response had been received, a third letter was sent to her on 24 January 2022 (click for letter) reminding her of our request and also of her obligations to her electorate.
On 8 January 2022 a group of eleven parish Councils in the Lewes District wrote to the Minister, Mr Michael Gove, raising the same issues and concerns and demanding that the government revise their planning formula (click for letter). The WGOD is in contact with the Lewes group.
On the 10 January 2022 a further letter was sent by the WGOD to all parish and town councils in Wealden (click for letter) providing an update on the exchanges of communications that had taken place with the Ministry, and also announcing that because of the increasing numbers of Covid infections it had been decided to delay the proposed meeting to the end of March.
On the 25 January 2022 the seven parish councils who had written to the Minister received a second reply from the Ministry (click for letter), this time from a named official who was responding on behalf of the Secretary of State. This was another two-page letter effectively repeating what had been said in the Ministry’s first letter. The new letter contains a number of statements which defy logic (e.g. supports the use of out of date projections which have since revised substantially downwards to arrive at each district’s obligation for new housing, with the explanation that this is in order “to provide stability and certainty”). This letter again supports the government’s stated policy to have 300,000 new houses built in England each year. The fact that the policy is not supported by the official ONS population and household projections appears to be immaterial to those elected to run the country on our behalf.
Interestingly, on 30 January 2022 newspapers quoted Mr Michael Gove saying: “Since 2015, because of an absurd set of rules I inherited, we have spent over £1.6 billion of public money on land and infrastructure for housing in the South East, and less than £150 million in the North East. I am scrapping these rules and focusing on transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands which will help relieve the pressure on the green fields and infrastructure of the South East as well”. Therefore, it is just possible that there may be a policy change ahead, while the reply we received on 25 January was based on the current policy.
On the 4 February 2022 we received the long awaited reply from our MP, Ms Nusrat Ghani (click for letter). Although Ms Ghani again tells us that “my ability to influence such situations is limited, given that planning is the responsibility of the local authority, Wealden DC”, and although she totally bypasses all discussion on our grievance with the “standard method”, then, near the end of her letter, in the paragraph starting “Personally speaking…” she appears to be supporting lower numbers by “welcoming the right type of limited development that respects Wealden’s rural nature …”. Is it naïve to think that, maybe, our message is getting through?
On 25 February 2022, TV news program BBC South East Today had a story about Wealden Parish Councils objecting to government housing targets. The main points of the story also appeared as a BBC news article (click for article)
On the 11 March 2022 nine members of the Group had a constructive meeting (click for press release) with The Rt. Hon Nus Ghani MP. The Group and the MP both agreed that the current method of calculating the district’s housing needs is not working and is not providing the affordable homes that Wealden needs.
On 12 March 2022 Uckfield Town Council sent a powerful and eloquent letter to the Secretary of State (click for letter), opposing the “unprecedented levels of housebuilding that is taking place in Wealden” and “supporting the earlier letter by its neighbouring parishes”.
On 3 April 2022 the Group sent a letter (click for letter) to the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP, Minister of State for Housing asking for clarifications on issues he had touched upon in the Parliamentary debate with Ms Ghani of 1st March. There were also important issues which had not been discussed and to which we sought answers. On 3 May 2022 the Minister responded (click here for letter). In the same manner as with the two letters we had previously received from the Ministry, the reply contains no rational response to the points raised by the Group.
On 8 April the Working Group’s meeting of Wealden councils took place at Horam Village Hall. It was attended by 65 persons, of which 57 were councillors from 35 town councils, parish councils and parish meetings. There were four excellent speakers including the Deputy Leader of Wealden DC. The meeting was very successful judged by the lively discussion and the supportive comments made by numerous participants. The minutes of the meeting, the conclusions that were reached, and copies of the presentations are available in this link.
By now in total 39 out of a total of 42 Wealden town councils parish councils and parish meetings have formally agreed to join the initiative against overdevelopment. They are the following: Alciston; Alfriston; Arlington; Berwick; Buxted; Chalvington with Ripe; Chiddingly; Crowborough; Cuckmere Valley; Dane Hill; East Hoathly with Halland; Fletching; Forest Row; Framfield; Frant; Hadlow Down; Hailsham; Hartfield; Heathfield and Waldron; Hellingly; Herstmonceux; Horam; Isfield; Laughton; Little Horsted; Long Man; Maresfield; Mayfield & Five Ashes; Ninfield; Pevensey; Rotherfield; Selmeston; Uckfield; Wadhurst; Warbleton; Wartling; Westham; Willingdon & Jevington; and Withyham.