Race is on to finish neighbourhood plans in the South Downs National Park

Public consultation at Petworth
Public consultation at Petworth

THE stakes in the neighbourhood plan game inside the boundaries of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) are about to get higher.

And the race is on for communities who are drawing up their plans, to get them completed before the national park goes out to consultation on its own Local Plan.

Currently all those communities drawing up their neighbourhood plans are deciding for themselves how they want to develop and where they want new housing to be built.

They all know the numbers they are having to accommodate from figures released last year in the national park’s proposals for its emerging local plan.

Across the South Downs National Park Authority, a total of 4,596 homes, including 1,800 affordable houses, have been earmarked over the plan period to 2032, with specific allocations for individual communities.

The problem facing the park is that it is in danger of having ‘holes’ in its housing allocation if it waits too long for communities to come up with their own preferred sites for development.

This means it could be turned down by a government planning inspector at the public inquiry stage.

And in a report set to go before members of the park’s planning committee today, January 21, officers set out three options to address what could become a major headache.

Director of planning Tim Slaney tells members: “This report considers how best to balance the need of some neighbourhood development plan (NDP) groups to have further time to complete their plans against the risks this might pose to the South Downs Local Plan (SDLP).

“On balance it is in the interests of localism and supporting local communities to leave responsibility for the allocation of land for development and the preparation of policies, with the qualifying NDP body, even if they have not reached pre-submission stage by April of this year so long as tangible progress continues to be made.”

In its Local Plan Preferred Options published last October, officers said all communities intending to allocate sites in their neighbourhood plans must get to ‘pre-submission’ stage at least six months before the consultation on the park’s own Local Plan.

Officers expect to go out to consultation on their Local Plan in October, so communities have until April 1 to meet the deadline.

Neighbourhood plan steering committees across the park have been told if they have not reached 
pre-submission stage by April, park officers will allocate sites as they see fit in those parishes and towns.

“Due to the work required in order to allocate land in the Local Plan,” said Mr Slaney, “it is necessary to consider now the progress so far of the neighbourhood plans being prepared and the options available to the SDNPA where it appears that pre-submission may not be reached.”

Members of the park planning committee will be presented with three options today on how best to ‘fill’ the holes created by the absence of a progressing neighbourhood plan.

The first is to take over and let South Downs officers allocate sites, the second is to allocate sites, but remove them if the neighbourhood plan comes through. Officers are recommending members to go with the third option, to continue to support communities to keep to their timetables.

THERE are 48 neighbourhood plans currently being drawn up across the South Downs National Park.

In his report, planning director Tim Slaney says: “This is by far the largest number in a protected landscape and also a considerable number for a local planning authority.

“They are being prepared by the national park’s largest towns, namely Petersfield and Lewes, down to small villages such as Milland and Rogate.

“There are five communities producing plans where big housing numbers are required of between 150 and 800 new homes.

“These are Petersfield (800 homes), Fernhurst (220), Liss (150), Petworth (150) and Lewes (220).

“These are responsible for allocating land for the most significant 
levels of development and are therefore the ones that pose the greatest risk to the soundness of the local plan should they fail to progress sufficiently,” says the report.

Petersfield’s has passed its referendum stage and is due to be ‘made’ at the planning meeting.

Fernhurst has passed its examination and a referendum is due on March 2.

Petworth, Liss and Lewes are all still at the first stage of evidence gathering.

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