Chichester residents will be increasingly aware that the Draft Local Plan proposes extensive new areas of housing plus a small amount of employment on what the District Council calls ‘strategic sites’ around Chichester.
As the Society reviews the developing Local Plan, these sites feel very far short of real strategic planning. Rather they have come to the fore simply as a result of developers proposing patches of land that they own (or have options on). And the Council has not had the resources – or the foresight – to do much more than acquiesce.
Be that as it may, the approval or otherwise of the sites now rests with an Examination in Public in September, when the Plan will be scrutinised by an Inspector appointed by Whitehall. Somehow, this process again seems to fall short of the much-vaunted idea of Localism!
Further, despite this official timetable, the developers are now doing their best to jump the gun. They are preparing plans (as at Whitehouse Farm) and submitting planning applications (as at Westhampnett) in advance of any approval under the incoming Local Plan. Presumably, they see an advantage in being ready to go as soon as the Local Plan is approved, rather than starting from scratch when – or rather if – it is.
Another incentive for developers to push the pace is that, if development begins early, they are likely to be liable for much smaller contributions to local communities, in terms of playing fields, village halls, road improvements and the like.
This is because, at present, developers give back to the community through “Planning Gain” in the form of ‘Section 106’ agreements, which are widely seen as less onerous than the system of Planning Gain through the ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL) that will come in with the Local Plan.
To oppose this juggernaut, the District Council has invested some effort in erecting defensive screens called ‘Concept Statements’. These are intended to be indications of how the council would like the site to be developed, formulated by ‘community planning’. Which is admirable, you may say, and in principle that is true.
But in practice, the community meetings have been squeezed into a foreshortened timetable. The Tangmere one was brought forward from September to June without due notice, and the Westhampnett one happened before anyone in Chichester City had heard about it!
Local parish councils did know; but the developments are on a district-wide scale and would weld the new strategic sites irrevocably to Chichester itself. This is an extension of the problem of pitting under-resourced local councils against over-resourced developers backed by central government.
Worse, it now appears that these Concept Statements may be worth little more than the paper they are written on. They are apparently only a ‘material consideration’ which effectively means that a developer can ignore them if they can find any reason for doing so.
To illustrate the point, the developers who want to build on the corner of Stane Street and Madgwick Lane managed to get through a 2-hour presentation and question session without mentioning concept statements once; and the developers for Whitehouse Farm mounted an exhibition of their plans for the site before the concept statement for that area has even been published.
We will look back in 20 years’ time and wonder how Local Government ever deserved that name.