Mid Sussex District Council’s performance at a public inquiry into a housing scheme planned for Sayers Common was “a car crash” according to a villager, who has questioned the depth of its expertise.
Jenny Sweet, a Dunlop Close resident who gave evidence at this month’s planning appeal into an outline scheme for 120 homes on land at Kingsland Laines and Reeds lane, said: “The council’s evidence was ripped to shreds. They were forced to withdraw all their objections and their evidence. It was like watching a car crash.
“The council’s experts were harangued and bullied by the applicant’s barrister, but that’s no excuse for the fact that their evidence wasn’t robust enough.”
The council had objected to the scheme on the grounds of flood risk and the impact on the setting of a grade II listed building, Aymers and Sayers, but dropped its objections under tough cross examination and in the face of extensive, expert drainage evidence provided by a consultant acting for developer Woodcock Holdings.
Dunlop Close resident Judith Marsh said: “You have to ask: does the council have the right level of expertise and enough staff to review applications of this kind? If this goes ahead, anyone can get planning permission, including Mayfield [New Town].
“The council has just one drainage expert who is clearly snowed under with this and other case-loads, whereas developers can hire multiple experts because they have the money.”
Jenny Sweet warned: “If this scheme goes ahead, and it now looks likely to, we can expect concrete from Haywards Heath to Brighton and it may also be the key that opens the door to Mayfield’s new town scheme. It will give Mayfield the access onto the A23 that they need.”
Councillor Gary Marsh, Cabinet Member for Planning, insisted: “Mid Sussex District Council took all appropriate measures to ensure our decision to refuse planning permission was robustly defended at this appeal.
“The council was represented by a barrister and evidence was provided by a qualified drainage witness and an expert planning consultant.
“It is now up to the independent planning inspector to consider all the evidence presented at the Inquiry and we expect her to make a final decision in the next few weeks.”