Will the Secretary of State pre-determine Hurstpeirpoint and Sayers Common neighbourhood plan?

Permission to build nine dwellings on the site of Oaklands and Holfords on Keymer Road was rejected on the grounds of unacceptable overlooking
Permission to build nine dwellings on the site of Oaklands and Holfords on Keymer Road was rejected on the grounds of unacceptable overlooking

A tense wait is ensuing for those concerned with the future development of Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common.

The parish’s neighbourhood plan has entered a new consultation phase against the backdrop of the Secretary of State having called-in three major planning applications for the area.

An inquiry into plans for 81 homes for College Lane, Hurstpierpoint, concluded on April 2, and two other applications are set to be determined by the Government.

Chair of the parish council John Wilkinson said the results would not be known until the summer, but that the neighbourhood plan’s progress would continue regardless.

He said: “It is a waiting game through to the middle of August when the Secretary of State has indicated that a decision on all three will be made simultaneously.”

The chairman admitted it was an ‘unusual situation’ and that he believed whatever decision is made the judgement will make national headlines.

He said: “We believe the Secretary of State has called-in all three because of the Localism Bill and the fact that the three applications are either forming part of our neighbourhood plan or are against the recommendations within the plan.

“I think he has taken the unusual step to say if these applications are considered without reference to the neighbourhood plan then it could well undermine the whole process of localism.”

The three applications in question relate to plans for 120 new houses and a new care home in Kingsland Laines, Sayers Common; the 81-home College Lane proposal on the edge of Hurstpierpoint; and 157 homes and 50 acre parkland development at Little Park / Highfield Drive, Hurstpierpoint.

Only this last application is favoured in the neighbourhood plan.

However, despite the parish council’s and district planning officer’s recommendation to approve the application, Mid Sussex District Council planning committee members rejected it last year on July 11 – a date etched in the mind of Mr Wilkinson.

That day, against their own officer’s recommendation to refuse it, and the fact it did not form part of the local neighbourhood plan, the same committee also approved the 81-home College Lane application.

“July 11, 2013, is a date that is firmly in my mind for being a bit of a bombshell for what was then the neighbourhood plan consultation draft,” said Mr Wilkinson.

“And indeed on the evening of July 11 as a parish council we were scheduled to approve our plan as the submission draft, which it has now reached. We’ve had a 10-month delay.”

The Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common Neighbourhood Plan has now entered what is known as the Publicity Period, a six-week consultation ending on May 23 which allows interested parties to make comments to Mid Sussex District Council before it makes the decision to pass the plan on for independent examination by an inspector appointed by the Government, before it ultimately is approved by local referendum.

However, if the Secretary of State approves the major developments he has called-in then, according to Mr Wilkinson, ‘Localism is dead’.

“He would have called-in three applications because of their national interest with regards to Localism and then ignored the views of the local residents as expressed in an emerging neighbourhood plan,” clarified the parish chairman.

“I think his decision will hit national press either which way,” he continued, “because if he rules in favour of the proposals contained within our neighbourhood plan, i.e. going against two decisions made by Mid Sussex District Council, that will be a feather in the cap for Government and its Localism Bill.

“I think they might wish to take some credit for that.”

Whatever decision the Secretary of State makes in August it could either affirm the neighbourhood plan before it is formally adopted post-referendum, or quite simply blow it out of the water if developers get approval for their schemes.

With reference to parishioners’ reaction to the plan, Mr Wilkinson said: “Our key message now is you might not like some of the detail and the decisions comprised within our neighbourhood plan, but consider the alternative.

“And that was very forcibly outlined by the applicant at the College Lane inquiry when their planning consultant gave the opinion that Hurstpierpoint alone should be taking 750 to 1500 new homes within the planning period that we are talking about.”

By contrast the parish council’s plan states Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common should be taking less than 300 new houses over the next 20 years between them.

“We wait with baited breath,” said Mr Wilkinson.