POLITICIANS are expected to clash tonight in a key debate over the future of the Arun local plan (Wednesday, September 9).
Councillors are recommended to approve a suspension of the crucial housing document for up to 18 months, while officers work to see if they can meet an increased house building target of 758 homes per annum.
In a snippet of tonight’s anticipated Arun District Council debate, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors discussed the issue at the joint eastern Arun area committee in Littlehampton on Tuesday night.
Lib Dem deputy leader Dr James Walsh said the handling of the issue had been a ‘planning disaster’, with a series of delays now forcing Arun into having to investigate higher housing targets.
He said: “It could have been done quicker. Officer recommendations were turned down on several occasions and has set it back each time.
“This isn’t outside influences. It has been largely driven by the slowness and tardiness by Arun District Council.”
Dr Walsh’s Lib Dem colleague, Ian Buckland, argued the council must plan ahead in order not to be caught out again.
The Government released new demographic data shortly after the submission of the plan.
It meant the plan’s target of delivering 641 homes per annum was insufficient and it should aspire to meet the higher figure, if possible.
Mr Buckland suggested aiming for a notional figure of 1,000 homes per annum – which shocked cabinet member for housing Roger Elkins.
Mr Elkins said: “From the initial comments this evening I am really quite shocked by Ian Buckland’s statement to say we should go for 1,000 houses. “That doesn’t sound like the plan process. To propose a 30 per cent increase just off the cuff, it sounds quite surprising.”
Mr Elkins stressed the plan needed to avoid ‘coalescence’ of communities, while appreciating the significant demand for housing.
Cabinet member for planning and infrastructure Rickie Bower said the problems Arun had were ‘common’, with just 45 districts having a fully adopted local plan.
Leader Gill Brown has been pushing for staged local plans at a national level in order to minimise the type of issues experienced.
Mr Bower, who along with Mrs Brown was urged to resign by 159 residents last month, said: “We are doing our best under very difficult circumstances.”
Turning to the issue of infrastructure, he added: “We have infrastructure issues that are constraining economic development in parts of the district, particularly Bognor Regis.
“The fact that the county council took the view that the A29 should be taken out of the strategic road network in the early days was described as a disgrace at the time because it was the main road.”
The meeting is to be held at the Arun Civic Centre, in Maltravers Road, Littlehampton, from 6.30pm.
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