Developers, planners and local planning authorities in East and West Sussex and West Kent have been left scratching their heads after a decision by one council has called into question all new development in the area.
Wealden District Council has confirmed that as a result of their continued assessment of nitrogen deposits in the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), there will be no development permitted unless it can be shown that the proposed scheme won’t generate any additional vehicle movements.
The decision follows a High Court decision last month relating to Wealden District Council’s challenge of the Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) Joint Core Strategy.
The judge quashed the housing requirement policies of the SDNPA after the court found that traffic movements in the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) had already cumulatively breached the 1000AADT movements, quoted by Natural England as a threshold for acceptable levels of traffic.
The equivalent policies of the Lewes District Council Local Plan remain intact, but only as Wealden had been out of time to bring proceedings against the Plan, however, planning applications must still give consideration to the judgement.
Katie Lamb, Director of Planning at DMH Stallard, said:
“If Wealden District Council’s approach is correct, and many will be taking advice whether they are, then their self-imposed embargo on development spans a 25km zone around the Ashdown Forest SAC, far greater than the previous 7km and 15km zones.
“To place a moratorium on development throughout their district means other large towns within a similar distance of the Ashdown Forest, such as Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead, Lewes and perhaps even Brighton and Hove, may also be affected.
“This will have a seismic effect on the delivery of housing and development during a time when the government is seeking to boost delivery. We’re discussing this issue with clients at various stages of development, not just in the Wealden District, but within any area which could be said to generate traffic through Ashdown Forest.
“There is a great concern that we will find ourselves in a similar position to the moratorium placed around the Surrey Heaths SAC about 10 years ago.”
It is also understood that the proposed compensation measures will only provide adequate ‘headroom’ for those allocations identified within the draft Wealden Local Plan. Therefore, there is not only a question mark over development in other authorities within this zone, but also for locations within Wealden that are not identified for development, including windfall sites or allocated sites which are able to deliver greater numbers.
“This is a matter of national importance, affecting the delivery of housing and economic development in an area where there is significant need and demand. It remains to be seen if the government will step in to consider the implications of such a restrictive approach to future development in such an important part of the South East.
“What is clear is that there will be a number of months of uncertainty and additional expense, whilst all those involved try to get their heads around the way forward.”