Horncroft Common plans to be decided by South Downs authority

The controversial sandpit application for Horncroft Common, near Fittleworth, is to be decided by the South Downs National Park Authority.

At a meeting of the authority’s planning committee in Lewes, chairman Andrew Shaxson announced that, because of procedural matters, the Barlavington Estate’s bid for planning consent could not go before the county planning committee in March – the last possible meeting before its cedes responsibility for minerals planning and control to the national park.

The application was before the NPA planning committee for it to decide what comments it should submit to the county planners.

The park’s head of planning, Jim Redwood, recommended that an objection should be raised.

But Mr Shaxson, who is Harting and Elsted’s Chichester district councillor, later told the Observer: “We did not make any judgment or have any discussion on it.

“It was deferred because county council proedural matters means it cannot go to their March planning meeting.

“It will therefore come to us, the National Park Authority, in due course.”

A statement from the county council said its planning committee had envisaged it would consider the application at its meeting on March 15.

“However, this is no longer possible because of the complexity of comments recently received and the need to consider a wide range of technical and environmental matters,” the statement said.

Opponents of quarrying at Horncroft have long lobbied for the issue to be decided by the NPA and not the county council.

They successfully delayed the process within WSCC by demanding – and being granted – more time to respond to a revised application submitted at the end of last year.

Their tactics meant the application missed the county’s February meeting, which was ultimately cancelled, leaving just one to go.

In his report to the NPA planning committee, published in advance of Monday’s meeting, Mr Redwood had recommended telling West Sussex County Council the park authority objected to the Horncroft proposal.

Major development comprising new mineral extraction in a national park was contrary to the principles of government policy, he advised.

Exceptional circumstances had not been demonstrated that would override the detrimental effect on the environment of the park, or that it was indeed in the public interest.

Mr Redwood said also that the ‘current ambiguity’ over the future level of sand and gravel supply from within the park needed to be resolved before a major new site was considered.

And he added: “When the ambiguity is resolved, there needs to be comprehensive consideration of the best options for meeting West Sussex and the South Downs National Park mineral needs in the future.”