Councillors have shared their frustration about the government’s ongoing work to reform the planning system and how it is impacting the progress of Chichester’s Local Plan.
The Plan, which lays out the framework for future development in the area – not including the South Downs National Park – was due to be reviewed and adopted in July 2020 but has been delayed, partly due to the pandemic.
On top of that, the national planning reforms, which were due to be introduced in the spring, have failed to materialise, leaving councils across the country in the dark about any new powers they may have or new policies they must follow.
During a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (July 18), West Sussex deputy leader Jonathan Brown said that a letter sent to Secretary of State Michael Gove asking for an update on the reforms had received no answer.
Describing the progress of the Local Plan as "torturous" and "going round in circles", Mr Brown said: “The lack of a Local Plan has been causing havoc with the work of the planning committee who are struggling to deal with a tide of speculative applications, some of which are I believe deeply flawed and which risk doing serious damage to our countryside and communities.
“But they find themselves hamstrung but the awful planning system which serves everyone so poorly.
“I’d like to be clear about this point: I don’t personally have an objection to a national housing target, or even to a local one.
“I have a huge problem with the failure of the system to enable local government to actually plan for it. Because that’s what’s happening.”
The council wants to submit the Local Plan for examination as quickly as possible and is currently looking through almost 2,500 comments received from groups and individuals to the recent Regulation 19 consultation.
The consultation was a very specific one, asking people if they felt the Plan met all legal requirements; had been positively prepared and was justified, effective and consistent with national policy; and whether the council had engaged and worked effectively with neighbouring authorities and statutory bodies.
The collating, analysing, and reviewing of the comments and any issues raised forms an important part of the plan-making process before it is ready to be submitted for examination.
This, of course, takes time, something which is rather tight given that the council hopes to submit the Local Plan in the autumn.
Mr Brown asked officers if it would be possible to submit it before all the representations had been dealt with.
The response was a firm ‘no’.
Andrew Frost, head of planning, said the plan-making process as "unfortunately complex and wholly reliant on evidence".
Mr Frost told the meeting that submitting the Plan for examination now would put it at high risk of being found to be unsound or not legally compliant – a decision that would be the ‘shortest route to failure and disappointment’.
He added: “We need to be able to submit a sound Plan.
“The only way we can do that is by having assessed, analysed and summarised all of the representations – to have done that piece of work properly and thoroughly and to have then formed the council’s response to those representations.”
And so work on the Local Plan will continue.
But Mr Brown was keen to thank the officers and staff who have spent day after day after day trying to pull it together.
He said: “I know officers are as fed up with this situation as members are and as the public are.
“I know that everyone working on the Plan has been working so hard and that setbacks and delays are so demoralising.
“I know officers sometimes are duty-bound to tell us things we don’t want to hear – so I want them to know that, despite all the ‘robust debates’ and disappointments with certain aspects of the Plan, we do recognise and appreciate their hard work, from top to bottom.”
By Local Democracy Reporter Karen Dunn