A plan that aims to make Chichester more resilient, and which will create a fairer, healthier, safer and greener district, is more vital than ever in light of the Covid-19 pandemic says Chichester District Council’s Deputy Leader.
Cllr Susan Taylor, who is also the cabinet member for Planning, is keen to update people on the progress that has been made on the Chichester Local Plan Review throughout the pandemic.
“Even though we have been busy responding to the current pandemic, the Local Plan Review has continued to be one of our top priorities throughout this crisis.
“In fact, it is more important than ever, and gives us the opportunity to create a better future for our residents and businesses. As jobs are created, earnings are increased, productivity is raised, living standards are improved, aspiration and skills are increased, the housing needs of local people are met, and better quality of services and facilities for those living in and visiting our area are provided. The plan offers us the opportunity to become more resilient and to create a fairer, healthier, safer and greener district.
“Some people have said that we are hiding the difficulties we are facing with the plan, but this is absolutely not true.
“It’s no secret that planning is a complex area. What our officers have been doing is making sure that we have the evidence to back up our investigations. This is absolutely critical, because when the Local Plan Review is submitted to the Planning Inspector to be considered, we have to show that we have done everything we can to consider all of the available options. If our evidence shows that certain things are not possible, as long as we have the evidence, the Inspector should take this into consideration when reviewing the targets that we have been set by Government.”
Two of the areas that the council is currently focusing on are roads and waste water.
“In order to meet the Government’s housing targets, we need to make sure that the right roads and facilities are in place. We have carried out huge amounts of work, looking at where housing could possibly go and what new roads or improvements would be needed. This is not a simple exercise because it requires us to carry out detailed options, accounting for all sorts of things, from the environmental impact to local economic needs,” says Susan.
“This work, which has involved transport specialists, has identified that we need a series of improvements on the junctions on the A27, including a link road from the Fishbourne roundabout, to the Manhood Peninsula. Highways England has told us that the options we are suggesting would meet the additional pressure from future housing. West Sussex County Council has also agreed that the link road would be necessary if we are to meet the level of growth the government expects. Our partners have agreed that improvements are needed while we wait for a long term decision from the Government on the A27.
“Most of this work was published at the time of our Preferred Approach Plan consultation in December 2018, and has been available on our website since then. Further work, to assess whether there is any alternative option, is currently being finalised and the intention is that it will be on our website in a matter of weeks. The proposed link road would cross over land owned by West Sussex County Council and so they have now asked us to carry out a much more detailed assessment on this. Completing this work will take some time and will affect the current Local Plan timetable. This is a vital piece of evidence for the Planning Inspector, who will review the Plan, to consider and so it is critical that this work is completed. As we gather this information, we intend to share this with our communities and explain it in more detail.”
Waste water has been an ongoing problem for the South of the district and it is something that the council has been lobbying Southern Water about for some time. However, this has now led to the council raising an official complaint with the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, which oversees all waste water providers and is able to hold them to account.
“It seems the complaint that we made to Ofwat has made a difference. We have recently been holding constructive meetings with Southern Water and the Environment Agency to look at what can be achieved,” adds Susan.
“In order to deliver the Local Plan we need more waste water capacity. Southern Water has agreed to work with us jointly on identifying the improvements that need to be made. Over the coming months we will be developing a clear plan which will set out what is needed and how it will be achieved.”
The council will be considering a review of the timetable for the Local Plan Review shortly. However, Susan is keen to assure people that the council has put measures in place to protect the Chichester local plan area from inappropriate speculative development.
“Every planning application is considered by the council. As part of this process, we consult with relevant organisations such as Southern Water, West Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency, Natural England and Highways England. If any of these organisations highlight significant problems which cannot be overcome, then an application would be refused.
“In addition to this, we have introduced an Interim Housing Policy Statement. This is part of our rule book for planning applications and this considers other factors, such as the protection of strategic wildlife corridors, and Environment Agency advice on flooding.
“This approach gives us the best possible position to manage planning applications until the Local Plan Review can be adopted.
“What we can’t do is impose a moratorium on all new large housing developments as some have suggested. Even if we could delay investment in homes and jobs, under law, developers have the right to submit planning applications which must be determined within agreed timescales. If not, they have a right of appeal to Planning Inspectors and we may even be found to have acted unreasonably, with applicants appeal costs awarded against us.
“What is vital is that we continue to work with our partners and communities to get the very best outcome for our district and I believe that we can achieve this. We will shortly be issuing a regular newsletter, making sure that people are aware of the work that is happening and highlighting the opportunities for people to have their say. People can sign up to this by emailing their details to email@example.com.”