Wealden's Local Plan was rejected by the Government Inspector - so what now? Wealden Greens look for the positives.

9 March 2020

When the Government Inspector said that Wealden District Council's Local Plan - that sets out its future framework for development - had failed, there was dismay. And yes, it is a real problem: millions of £s spent on a rejected Plan, and an apparent free-for-all for developers. But there's hope. Could this be our best chance to create a new Local Plan with climate, biodiversity and local people at its heart?

Wealden District Council withdrew its draft Local Plan after the Government Inspector determined that the plan fails a legal compliance with the Duty to Co-operate and didn’t follow Natural England’s advice.

While this is a real blow for Wealden DC, it does offer opportunities. Green Cllr Keith Obbard says, "Being forced to draw up a new Local Plan has given us an opportunity to align the Local Plan with our Environmental Plan to make Wealden Carbon Neutral before 2050.

"We need the residents of Wealden to support our Councillors in resisting the Conservative Government's efforts to water down the commitment to tackle Climate Change." 

Wealden DC has spent nearly five years and over £2m working on its Local Plan, which is designed to steer development to suitable areas in the District and to set out the guidelines for planning permission in Wealden for the next 10 years or so. 

The inspector reported that the draft plan failed due to Wealden’s “inadequate record” to engage with five neighbouring planning authorities, adding that Wealden “had failed to meet Duty to Co-operate in relation to air quality matters, cross boundary impacts on the Special Areas of Conservation, Eastbourne’s unmet housing and employment needs, and strategic infrastructure.” 

Wealden DC also chose, rightly in our view, to follow a very precautionary approach for their air quality protection for the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and ignored the advice from Natural England to use the Defra (Department of Environment Food & Rural Affairs) model, which the Inspector said they should have followed. 

A new local plan will now need to be drafted in line with the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published in February 2019. This requires Councils to enable developers to build a much higher number of homes each year to cater for anticipated growth in the district. 

Cllr Patricia Patterson-Vanegas notes, though, that “a comparison between population projections by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) in Wealden for 2028, and, the number of houses that Wealden had to build under the failed local plan shows that 32% of houses will be empty as there will not be enough people to inhabit them.

This is a national problem and many communities around the country are unhappy about the ridiculous number of houses being pushed on their areas with the very serious consequences that this means for the environment.” Patricia is actively seeking more information and working with fellow councillors across the country on this matter.  

Until the new Local Plan can be adopted, which will probably take two to three years, there will be many applications for housing developments coming forward which would have been resisted under the old draft Local Plan using the Ashdown Forest SAC argument.  

Under the NPPF there is a presumption in favour of development, unless the Local Authority can cite good reasons (such as AONB, Traffic, or habitat protections) why development should not be allowed. 

Wealden Green Party councillors will seek to ensure that the new plan mandates better building standards, especially for energy efficiency and that the new Draft Plan aligns to the climate emergency plan in areas such as transport and air quality, habitat protection increased tree cover and greater biodiversity.


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