Adopting a local plan for Arun is a ‘milestone and a huge achievement’ for the district, according to the council’s Conservative administration.
However opposition members labelled the situation, which will see the area take an average of 1,000 new homes per year up to 2031, an ‘awful mess’ with infrastructure already ‘at bursting point’.
In his final report released earlier this month, planning inspector Mark Dakeyne, who scrutinised Arun’s local plan, found that subject to a number of modifications the document could be found sound.
Arun district councillors then voted to adopt the plan by 38 votes to six on Wednesday night (July 18).
Several Tories acknowledged the housing target was being imposed on them by central Government, but opposition members suggested a lower figure could have been agreed if work on the plan had been completed years earlier.
Beforehand protestors gathered outside to demonstrate their opposition to large-scale housebuilding, especially in the Pagham and Bersted areas.
To the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall they sang: “We don’t need no district council. Hey, Arun, leave our fields alone.”
John Charles (Con, Barnham), cabinet member for planning, described how the planning system had been through a number of significant changes causing the council to reevaluate and revise its work several times.
He argued the plan would help to foster economic prosperity across the district and enable regeneration of both Bognor Regis and Littlehampton.
Without an adopted plan the Government would take control of the area’s planning process.
He added: “Residents of Arun would not thank us for that outcome.”
He continued: “This is a plan for the future, for our children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to live, study and work in the area where they came from.”
Without an up-to-date local plan in place the council has been seen many controversial applications approved, with its local policies deemed out of date.
Paul Dendle (Con, Arundel and Walberton) added: “I absolutely hate what we have to do in terms of voting for this plan but we have to vote for it.
“If we do not then the district is in peril.”
Gill Brown (Con, Aldwick East), leader of the council, said: “We have got to adopt the plan and move forward to protect the area.
“Any unhappiness with strategic housing allocations will be sorted out through the local planning process.”
But Jim Brooks (Ind, Marine) said they were in a ‘terrible situation’ several years removed from the opportunity to go ahead with a target of 586 homes a year.
He added: “It has been an awful mess and a very expensive one.”
James Walsh (LDem, Beach) agreed and described how Arun’s infrastructure was ‘at bursting point already’,
Francis Oppler (LDem, Orchard) argued the Tories had been distracted by lobbying and infighting, with Bognor Regis and Littlehampton taking far more than its fair share of housing.
He described how the Conservative group had adopted a ‘bunker mentality’, adding: “I was sickened by the self-congratulating back slapping that occurred on the email system when the inspector made his decision.”
LIB DEMS ‘PLAYING TO PUBLIC GALLERY’
Several Conservative councillors criticised Lib Dems for opposing adoption.
Trevor Bence (Con, Aldwick East), cabinet member for residential services, pointed out between 5,000 and 6,000 affordable homes were expected to be built over the plan period, helping to take families off the housing register.
He criticised Mr Oppler’s level of attendance at local plan sub-committee meetings, adding: “This plan allows Arun to shape its own future, not Councillor Oppler.”
Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering and Findon) told the Lib Dems ‘not to play to the public gallery and do not be pathetic’, adding: “The local plan is going to shore this district up. It’s going to make us stronger to fight sporadic development.”
Ricky Bower (Con, East Preston) said they had heard ‘quite a lot of rubbish from quite a few members’, while Mr Charles added: “Every decision that has been made has been made on evidence rather than speculation.”
However the strongest reaction came when Martin Smith (LDem, Aldwick West) suggested places such as Aldwick, Bersted and Pagham had been ‘screwed over’ by the council.
He was almost immediately interrupted with one Conservative calling his comments ‘rude, bad mannered and ignorant’, while another Tory councillor said he would take him to standards.
Phil Hitchins (Con, Aldwick West) criticised ‘dreadful political speeches’ by the Lib Dem group, adding: “You can say anything you like when you are in opposition.”
But he then said: “I would be saying exactly the same if I was in opposition.”
He added: “As councillors we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We are damned if we do something and damned if we do not, but without a local plan we will have even more houses dumped on Arun.
“We are being forced to take these houses.”
Roger Elkins (Con, Ferring) said: “We have had to go by the rules however tough that is for many councillors here.”
He added: “We have to do the best we can with the housing numbers we are required to deliver.”
‘A MILESTONE AND A HUGE ACHIEVEMENT’
After the meeting Mr Charles said: “The adoption of our local plan is a milestone and a huge achievement and although not without impact, means the Arun district and local communities will be supported by planned development, infrastructure and polices to ensure that there is appropriate protection, conservation and mitigation.
“The scale of growth in the plan addresses the demographic evidence on population growth, people living within the district and those moving in and out and forming new households. The plan is therefore making housing provision for existing and for future generations at a time of when house price affordability and lack of availability are a challenge.
“In particular, the plan seeks to regenerate the major towns of Littlehampton and Bognor Regis as well as sustain local villages and strategic allocations through enhanced or new service hubs and business/employment sites in order to ensure that a variety of jobs and access to services to match the scale of housing.”
COUNCILLORS ‘FELT INTIMIDATED’
Following the meeting Mr Smith and Matt Stanley (LDem, Marine) criticised the behaviour of several Conservative councillors as ‘disgraceful’.
In a joint statement the pair said they were ‘shouted at, spoken over, there was mumbling and sniggering when we had the opportunity to speak as well as audible sighing when our names were called’.
They added: “The leader of the council needs to ensure her party treats every council member with courtesy and respect, and we will expect a formal apology.”
A spokesman for the council said: “Arun District Council can confirm that at the meeting of the full council in 18 July 2018, the procedures set out in the council’s constitution were followed.
“If any councillor or member of the public believes that a district councillor has not abided by the code of conduct that they will have signed up to, then they can make a complaint to the monitoring officer, Liz Futcher.”