Planning and all that..

Our AGM meeting on 22nd October was followed by a lively discussion about what the future may hold for Lewes town. It focused on housing as this makes up a large part of planning requirements but also touched on what role a Neighbourhood Plan for the whole of the town could play.

Cllr Tom Jones spoke about his role as both Chair of the Lewes District Council (LDC)  Planning Committee and rep. for Lewes on the South Downs National Park (SDNP) Authority. These roles complement each other but also could at times pull in opposite directions. He needs therefore to be sure at each point from which viewpoint he is speaking at any time. He did however explain the differing roles and responsibilities of each. Basically they are:

1. Since 1 April 2012 the SDNP has become the planning authority for Lewes as it is in the National Park
2. The SDNP Authority delegates back authority to the LDC any decisions on housing except if it is for a development of over 10 houses or commercial properties over 1,000 square metres.

The core aim of the SDNP Authority is to conserve the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and promote the enjoyment of the park.  They also wish to foster economic well being through a vibrant local economy.

Development of the North Street Quarter (formerly Phoenix development) will be opening to public consultation during 2013. This will cover land owned by LDC and Santon the developer in the industrial estate. The SDNP will be the authority to determine its outcome. There is a potential for 350 houses, fewer than the previous developer proposed.

However according to the South East Plan, which is still in force, a further 400+ houses will need to find locations in the town. A Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) forms part of the Local Development Framework core strategy which will identify potential locations for these.The publication of this plan is still awaited but will be widely publicised.

Issues that were raised from the floor included:

  • What number of houses might be built in the flood plain and how viable would they be to a developer if it proved too costly to flood-proof?
  • What definition of “affordable” is being used?.
  • What sort of community gain might be possible from a developer contribution (formerly section 106)?

Also it was asked who between the SDNP and LDC will ensure that any designs approved for the site are adhered to when it is actually built on? It is vital to ensure that the quality of any development is in accord with the Conservation Area and the status of Lewes as the County Town. There are ongoing concerns about some of the quality aspects of the Baxter’s site development.

Other questions focused on whether the actual area in question is actually larger than just North Street ie bringing in the Bus Station and Waitrose, in which case it ought to be renamed the East Gate development as it will embrace the entrance to the town from the Phoenix bridge end.

Cllr Susan Murray then spelled out what a Neighbourhood Plan could do for the town. Provision exists in the Localism Act for the Town Council to develop a town wide one or one for just one part of the town. It could take 18months to gather evidence and then requires a referendum for adoption. It needs to comply with the LDF Core Strategy which is not yet published.

A Neighbourhood Plan offers opportunities for the town to set certain parameters for any development for the next 20 years. For example it could focus on zero carbon development or set the levels and amount of affordable housing.  The Town Council  could apply for funding from the SDNP to buy in some expertise to help this. The development of North Street will however most likely precede this plan.

The meeting concluded with a discussion on the plans of the District Council to sell off many of its own properties. There are still unknowns in what this might mean.  Particular concerns raised were on the future of Southover House and St Mary’s Social Centre. This is a District Council matter.

In conclusion: Everyone present was enthused to try and engage fully in any opportunities that come up to give their views on developments. The Town Partnership sits on a sounding board group with other agencies to press for the best practice to be used in any public consultation. The concerns raised at this evening’s meeting will be fed back to this group and answers will be sought.

Find out more about the core strategy here