Sussex neighbourhood plan suffers 'fatal' examination blow

A Sussex neighbourhood plan has become the first in the country to stumble at examination after falling foul of European environmental requirements.

Ann Skippers
Ann Skippers

An examiner has concluded that the Slaugham Parish Neighbourhood Plan in Mid Sussex should not be subject to a local referendum, which would normally follow a successful examination.

Examiner Ann Skippers said she is not happy with the strategic environment assessment (SEA) submitted as part of the document.

She also expressed concerns about the evidence provided in the plan, drawn up by Slaugham Parish Council, to support its housing targets.

At the same time, Skippers announced that two Community Right to Build (CRB) Orders submitted by the parish council that were being examined alongside the neighbourhood plan, should be refused.

The two CRB Orders were the first in England to reach examination, Skippers said in her report.

Introduced under the Localism Act like neighbourhood planning, CRB orders allow communities to grant planning permission for new buildings, sidestepping the normal planning application process.

The draft plan sets out development in the parish up to 2031, allocating three sites for a maximum of 130 homes.

In her report, Skippers wrote: "It is with regret that I have reached the view that the neighbourhood plan is not compatible with the requirements of European Union obligations insofar that a strategic environment assessment is required and the one submitted […] is not satisfactory in a number of respects.

"Given that this is a legal requirement and one that I cannot recommend modifications to, I have concluded the Slaugham Parish Neighbourhood Plan should not proceed to a referendum."

Skippers notes that planning authority Mid Sussex District Council and government agency Natural England were both happy with the plan’s SEA.

But she described the failure to comply with EU SEA requirements as a "fundamental and unfortunately fatal issue".

The examiner also found that the plan’s housing target was "not based on sufficiently robust evidence".

She said that three site allocations for residential development within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty were "not necessarily deliverable and have not been sufficiently justified given the great weight the National Planning Policy Framework attaches to the protection of landscape and scenic beauty".             

Skippers wrote: "I appreciate that Slaugham Parish Council and others involved in the production of  the neighbourhood plan will be disappointed by this. It is often the case that those pioneering a new power such as the development of a neighbourhood plan can run into the buffers.

"Whilst it might be of little initial comfort, I am convinced that the work carried out by the parish council  and the community will not be wasted as a result of this set back."

She praised the parish council for "taking on the challenge" of neighbourhood planning and said the document was in many respects a good example of positive planning".

On the CRB orders, Skippers ruled that neither should proceed to a local referendum, as required before they are adopted.

The parish council's first order was to build 76 new homes in the village of Handcross and the second for a new community centre and bowling green, also in Handcross.

For both orders, Skippers wrote, consideration should have been given as to whether an EU environmental impact assessment was needed to allow her to judge whether Brussels requirements had been met.           

On the first order for the new homes, Skippers also said: "Uncertainty about the effects of the development and whether it can be satisfactorily delivered means that I cannot be sure that the order has had sufficient regard to national policies and guidance or will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development."                               

And, regarding the second order for the community centre, she added that a site-specific flood risk assessment should have been carried out.

In a statement, the district council said the examiner’s "very clear advice" about what needs to be done "will enable the parish to move forward with confidence that the plan will be successfully examined once these issues have been addressed".

Norman Webster, the cabinet member for planning, said: "Slaugham Parish Council is to be commended for grasping the opportunities offered by localism with both hands, and the district council will give its full support to the parish council in overcoming the procedural matters identified by the examiner."  

More details on the examination can be found here.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs