Why Wealden has problems with housing land supply

Housebuilding land within Wealden is in short supply.

That news will surely amaze the majority of people living in the Uckfield district who are witnessing the first phase of the 1,000 homes development at Ridgewood Farm, writes Paul Watson.

A view of some of the new houses being built at Ridgewood

A view of some of the new houses being built at Ridgewood (file photo)

However, if you go by government figures, there is a shortage of building land and its figures are key.

The national shortfall of houses was put at more than a one million in this BBC report.

Pressure for an increase in building land is coming from two main sources:

ONE: The failure of Wealden District Council’s draft Local Plan which would have limited new development in the Uckfield area in the years to come.

After the plan was officially “examined”, the government-appointed planning inspector rejected the plan and said Wealden must build more houses. 

See our story from when the rejection was announced.

TWO: This has a dull, boring name but is very much the elephant on the lawn – the five-year housing land supply, another government policy.

Five-year housing land supply

Wealden District Council does not have a five-year housing land supply.

Add that fact to the rejection of the Local Plan and you have something of a ‘perfect storm’ which has seen housebuilding planning applications pour in – both large and small throughout this year.

Another factor is that in the past some planning applications were refused because of the inability of the applicant, at that time, to mitigate the effect of the development on the Ashdown Forest.

Gorse and trees on the Ashdown Forest

Gorse in bloom on the Ashdown Forest

Mitigation is now possible through to the contributions to strategies for SANGS (Suitable Natural Alternative Green Spaces) and SAMMS (Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Strategies).

With all that, you might think it is a “free-for-all” and that all a developer has to do is put in an application and it will be waved through.

But the district council still has some weapons in its armoury to reject proposals from developers where it believes a proposed site is unsuitable.

What is the five-year housing land supply?

The Government has policies to promote housing supply and delivery and encourages local authorities (like Wealden District Council) to promote a sufficient supply of land for housing

A five-year land supply is a supply of specific sites sufficient to provide five years’ worth of housing (and an appropriate buffer) against a housing requirement set out in adopted strategic policies or against a local needs figure.

Wealden District Council was on the cusp of having a five-year supply of housing land until the rug was pulled from beneath it by rejection of the Local Plan.

Cllr Bob Standley

The council decided not to contest the refusal but instead is drawing up a new plan which will take “greater account” of Climate Emergency measures.

Cllr Ann Newton, Wealden Cabinet member with responsibility for Planning Policy, and Council Leader, Cllr Bob Standley, both stressed that the council had sought, through its earlier Local Plan, to balance the need to protect the environment with the need for more homes.

The revised Local Plan now being worked on will use the housing requirement suggested in the Planning Inspector’s (refusal) report, of 1,231 new homes per annum throughout Wealden, and “carefully consider and test the potential unmet housing needs of neighbouring planning authorities”.

It will also apply Natural England’s detailed advice when assessing possible damage to Ashdown Forest by caused by vehicle emissions from new development, working with neighbouring authorities.

Cllr Ann Newton

It is likely to mean an increase in the number of homes which would need to be built in all parts of the Wealden, but the council will still oppose sites where it considers development inappropriate.

Town and parish councils have been asked to help identify suitable sites which would help support the future provision of services for their communities.

Cllr Newton urged them to engage with the  district council in the new process. 

The council has also put a call for landowners to bring forward land they consider might be suitable for development, although there is no guarantee that suggestions will be accepted.

When it comes to planning, which council does what?

Uckfield Town Council does NOT have the power to grant or refuse any planning permissions whatsoever.

The council is a statutory consultee; meaning the council has to be consulted on any planning applications within its boundary.

It can only pass on advice to the council which grants or refuses planning permission.

That’s its role in the planning process and it is fair to say that the town council’s views do not always hold sway when the final decision is made.

Wealden District Council IS the planning authority and either grants permission or refuses.

It is worth knowing an applicant can appeal a refusal to the Planning Inspectorate. 

Objectors CANNOT appeal an approval.

The only recourse for objectors is to embark on what would probably be a long and costly court case which would only consider the council’s procedures – not the rights and wrongs of the application. Objectors can also ask the Government to “call-in” the application.

For the purposes of this article, East Sussex County Council is a consultee  when it comes to planning and can only express views on an application.

The Planning Inspectorate deals with planning appeals, national infrastructure planning applications, examinations of local plans and other planning-related and specialist casework in England and Wales. Read more here [external link]

The Inspectorate can award costs to a developer if they win permission on appeal, and that can run into many thousands of pounds, payable in our case by Wealden council. Read more here

What about the infrastructure?

National planning guidance, it can be argued, is forcing more housebuilding on Wealden than many of its residents would like. 

There is a general acceptance of the need for more new affordable homes but there is widespread dismay at the prospect of new estates containing many four and five-bedroom properties.

People in Uckfield point to the pressures new housing is having on GP surgeries, hospitals, school places, roads, public transport and the infrastructure in general.

Where is the infrastructure is the often the cry?

Roof tax

Generally, the infrastructure should follow the housing (in theory) but the Government signalled reforms in December to ensure more infrastructure is in place before new homes are occupied.

There are laws to ensure that developers pay a charge (a ‘roof tax’) on developments.

It is now known as the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and is supposed to help local authorities deliver infrastructure needed to support development in their area.

CIL money [and its predecessor, Section 106 monies] is usually built up and can pay for major projects, such as the Uckfield High Street works.

The drive for more housing is coming right from the top and if Wealden started to “unreasonably” refuse planning permissions because it felt the district had enough housing, you can bet there would appeals galore, court cases – with council taxpayers inevitably having to pick up some very big bills for costs.

Related stories

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Plans for seven new homes at Blackboys back on the agenda

See also:

Bluebell Railway hits fund-raising target

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