Working Group on Over-Development
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.
By now in total 41 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; Hooe; Horam; Isfield; Laughton; Little Horsted; Long Man; Maresfield; Mayfield & Five Ashes; Ninfield; Pevensey; Polegate; Rotherfield; Selmeston; Uckfield; Wadhurst; Warbleton; Wartling; Westham; Willingdon & Jevington; and Withyham.
July 2022: The Group has been making efforts to reform itself to be a more representative body with wider participation across the district. Whereas the original members of the Group were councillors and parishioners from Chiddingly, the Group presently has members from eight local councils of Wealden. In being able to better represent all tertiary councils in Wealden, the Group proposed that it should become a working group of the Wealden District Association of Local Councils (WDALC). This was agreed at the parish council of 12th July and at the AGM of WDALC on 13th July. The move, which is immediate, is expected to give the Group a broader appeal and also allow it in future to select its Chairman from outside Chiddingly PC. The Group will continue maintaining the present webpage.
Chronology of our campaign
On 22 December the government launched a consultation on proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) with a deadline for submitting comments by 2nd March. A very regrettable omission from this consultation was the absence of any proposal to amend the Standard Method and the use of the discredited 2014 household projections and the affordability factor. The government’s stated intent to review the Standard Method after 2024 is too late for the majority of LPAs currently engaged in plan making to meet the government’s December 2023 deadline. The WGOD did circulate first its draft submission to all local councils in Wealden and then the final text of its submission on 24 February 2023 (see copy of the submission). Several councils responded that they had utilised parts of WGOD’s submission in making their own submission. The WGOD also wrote to the five MPs of East Sussex on 2 March making them aware of the submission and of the feeling of increased frustration at the government’s handling of planning (see copy of letter).
12 December: A letter was sent to Mrs Teresa Villiers MP and Mr Robert Seely MP by representatives of local councils from the districts of Rother, Wealden, and Lewes (see copy of the letter). Mrs Villiers and Mr Seely had led a large group of MPs who have objected to the “standard method” and its effects on planning matters. They had proposed several important amendments to the “Levelling Up Bill”, which had addressed all our concerns. Recently, the Secretary of State, Mr Michael Gove, appears to have managed to appease the dissenting MPs with promises of serious change in the Bill. Consequently, the amendments were withdrawn by the dissenting MPs. On the 5 December Mr Gove wrote two letters to MPs outlining the changes he will be making to the Bill. However, on close reading of these two letters, we felt that his proposals fell very short of the measures proposed by Mrs Villiers and Mr Seely. We therefore wrote to the two MPs, with copy to the five East Sussex MPs, to alert them of our grave concerns. This is the first time the Wealden WGOD has written jointly with the Plumpton Group of 11 parish Councils and the Rother Association of Local Councils.
15 November: A meeting to discuss the over-development of our region was held between representatives of local councils from the districts of Rother, Wealden and Lewes, with four Members of Parliament from East Sussex. The Rother councils were represented by the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Rother Association of Local Councils and by the Chairman of Westfield Parish Council; The Wealden councils were represented by the Chairman and two members of the WGOD of the Wealden District Association of Local Councils; and the Lewes councils were represented by the Chairman, Vice Chairman and a councillor of Plumpton Parish Council. The MPs were: Under Secretary of State Ms Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes; Minister of State Ms Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden; Ms Sally-Ann Hart, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye; and Minister Mr Huw Merriman, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle. The representatives of the local councils thanked Mr Merriman for organising the meeting and then stressed that the “standard method” with its tests that are designed to be failed in most areas and to lead to the presumption of sustainable development, are worthy of Nicolo Machiavelli. Whereas we can understand that the government’s motives are to encourage economic activity, nevertheless the price we pay in the Southeast is far too high. The primary demand of the representatives of the local councils of the three districts is that the government needs to recognise the problem they have created and therefore needs to abolish the top-down housing targets before more damage is done. The four MPs expressed their understanding of the problem and of the frustration felt by the residents of the region. They said that believe in localism and therefore the ability of Local Planning Authorities to decide what is appropriate for their district. They said that new houses are needed but of the right type, at the right locations, and with the right infrastructure. They suggested that the Levelling Up Bill is providing a real opportunity to achieve this. In particular, the amendments that are being promoted by Ms Teresa Villiers are intended to address the exact problems the representatives of the local councils had explained. (Unfortunately) as three of the four MPs that attended the meeting are ministers, and therefore part of the government, they are not allowed to actively support amendments to Bills.
19 October 2022: A 2 ½ hour meeting was held with the leadership of Wealden District Council at the request of the WGOD. The meeting took place at the WDC offices in Hailsham and was attended by Mrs Ann Newton, Leader of WDC; Mr Chris Bending, Director for Planning and Economic Development; Ms Nicola Watters, Head of Planning Policy; and five members of the WGOD. The purpose of the meeting was to explore whether WDC intended to use the “standard method” to derive the housing requirement for the new Local Plan; to hear about WDC’s efforts to influence Southern Water to improve its poor environmental performance; to raise the concerns local councils have over WDC’s ability to defend appeals by developers to the Planning Inspectorate; and to understand WDC’s policy position on solar farms and the erosion of agricultural/pastoral land. The meeting was very useful in cementing WGOD’s belief that we need to maintain active support to WDC’s efforts to oppose the government’s top-down approach on planning.
14 October 2022: At the meeting of parish and town councils that was organised by the WGOD on 8th April 2022 at Horam Village Hall, a suggestion was made, which was supported by a number of council representatives, that the group should offer a support service to councils that are facing unwanted large scale planning applications (“large” being relative to the size of the parish or town). In response to that request, a Support Group was formed as part of WGOD by five members of the WGOD. The Support Group wrote to all local councils of Wealden on 14 October 2022 (see copy of the letter) announcing the formation of the Group and attaching a set of guidelines the Group had drafted on how to object to a planning application (see the guidelines). It is important to stress that the members of the Group are all volunteers and none of them claim to be planning experts. However, they have all dealt with and fought unwanted Planning Applications, galvanised local support, involved the local press, drafted council responses, spoken at Planning Committee, and dealt with appeals. They are willing to share their expertise and experience. There is a dedicated email address for contacting the group: email@example.com
On the 18 July 2022, following from the exchanges between the Group and the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP, ex-Minister of State for Housing, six members of the Group had a positive meeting with The Rt. Hon Maria Caulfield MP (click here for a summary report of the meeting). The Group and the MP agreed that the standard method of calculating the housing needs of Local Planning Authorities produces perverse results, especially in the Southeast. The MP welcomed the work of the WGOD and concluded on an optimistic note that: “promises that have been made [by the government] in the last few weeks”.
On 8 April 2022 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.
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 16 June 2022 the Working Group responded to the Minister (click here for letter) refuting in detail the Minister’s points and asking him, on behalf of the 39 tertiary councils represented by the Group, to provide answers to the points raised by the Group. A response was received from the Housing Minister on 5 September 2022 (click here for the letter), which unfortunately, but not surprisingly, does not takes us any further forward.
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 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 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 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?
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The WGOD published a further article in the November 2021 (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 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 two articles in the August 2021 (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.