Please SCROLL DOWN for 12th & 13th January, 8th & 28th February 2017.
Tuesday 29th November 2016: Day 1 of the hearing is now complete. Mayfields had very little chance to contribute anything to today’s discussion on housing need in the district. The main contributors were Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) and Mid Sussex Developers Forum (MSDF) which represents eleven major developers. After lunch the Inspector announced that he had already come to the conclusion that the Council’s housing figures (800 new homes per year) were unlikely to be high enough, but he questioned the evidence base of MSDF’s figure which calls for a 25% increase (still less than Mayfields’ figure!). He has now asked MSDC and MSDF to go away and have further discussions together about the possibility of coming to some kind of mutual agreement. Meanwhile, Mayfields which must view the MSDF an arch rival could only sit and watch. More tomorrow…
Wednesday 30th November 2016: Day 2 of the Examination of Mid Sussex’s Local Plan. Today Mayfields was represented by its high profile Planning Consultant, John Rhodes who is also Chairman of the government’s Local Plans Expert Group. In March his Expert Group made a series of recommendations to the government which are the basis for a new Housing White Paper due to be published before the end of the year.
This morning Mr Rhodes wasted no time in advising the Inspector, Jonathan Bore that, in his view, Mid Sussex had not fulfilled a number of government policy requirements. Most of the discussion was on ‘high level’ matters such as the mechanisms by which the council carried out its ‘Sustainability Assessment’ and on ‘constraints’ to development.
The Inspector re-iterated that he felt that the council’s figure of 800 new homes per year was not high enough while at the same time he said there was insufficient evidence to justify the 25% increase called for by the Mid Sussex Developers Forum (representing 13 large developers). Mayfields is not part of the Forum and is calling for an even higher figure to take account of Brighton’s and Crawley’s ‘unmet need.’
After lunch John Rhodes made his first bid to promote Mayfields by name. This was despite the Inspector’s specific request that he did not want to discuss specific sites at this stage of the hearing, adding that:
“It’s the Council’s business to look at the evidence and allocate sites.”
Mr Rhodes told the inspector that the Council had been wrong to dismiss the new town proposal and complained at the way in which Mayfields’ five volume submissions had been rejected by the council in a simple one paged document.
LAMBS Planning Consultant, Martin Carpenter then briefly outlined the unsuitability of Mayfields’ chosen site and its unpopularity among local people (including the land owners.) When Mr Rhodes tried to respond to Mr Carpenter’s comments the Inspector said:
“I’m not going to look at the merits or otherwise of the MMT proposal or indeed the objections to it – that’s for yourselves and the Council. What I am interested in doing is staying at the strategic level. I’ve said it a few times already that if additional houses were to be required then that would be down to the council, so I’m not interested in the merits or de-merits of that scheme.”
Tomorrow’s session will look more closely at the council’s housing figures and consider the district’s ability to take some of the ‘unmet need’ from Brighton and Crawley.
Thursday 1st December 2016: Day 3. The final day of this week’s hearings began with a flourish of MPs and ended in a procedural ‘hijack’ by Mayfield Market Towns’ front man, John Rhodes.
Sir Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert opened the meeting with passionate speeches about the importance of locally led planning – reiterating their strong opposition to Mayfields and urging the Inspector to allow the Mid Sussex Plan to go forward in its present form.
The Inspector, Jonathan Bore then heard evidence from representatives from both Crawley and Brighton and Hove Councils on what’s known as ‘unmet housing need’ – ie the calculated shortfall of homes which each borough has and is unable to build for itself. This was reported to be around 5,000 for Crawley and 16,000 for Brighton.
The council assured the Inspector that the District had been in long discussions with both councils and had not failed in its ‘Duty to Cooperate’ (the technicality which brought about the downfall of the first Mid Sussex Plan in 2013). Brighton Council’s representative, Liz Hobden then explained that both Mid Sussex and Horsham are part of a large group of neighbouring councils which are presently working on a strategy to address Brighton’s problem.
It was at this point that Mayfields, John Rhodes took to the stage and spoke at length – giving the council what can only be described as a ‘dressing down’. He called Mid Sussex’s Local Plan “unsound” saying: “This is a part of the country which has failed – failed in relation to the NPPF and failed in relation to its obligations to it residents. It has failed spectacularly.” Mr Rhodes then suggested that the Inspector should allow the plan to be adopted but with an “early review” to address Brighton’s shortfall.
Mayfields has made no secret of its enthusiasm for an “early review” because this would bring Mid Sussex in line with Horsham and allow them time to attempt garnering support for their unwanted town.
After lunch the Inspector gave a hint as to what his early conclusions were. He said that he felt the Council needed to find around 100 more houses per year to help towards Crawley’s unmet need and that he would be looking for a suitable “mechanism” by which to address Brighton’s shortfall. He directed the Council to have discussions with the Mid Sussex Developers Forum about what form this could take, mentioning a ‘review’ as a possibility.
Mayfields then leapt back into the fray with Mr Rhodes demanding that Mayfields be included in these discussions – at which point LAMBS’ quick thinking Planning Consultant, Martin Carpenter added: “If Mayfields is in the discussion then we should be too!”
Friday 9th December 2016: Day 4. Although today’s hearing was billed as having a packed Agenda, in reality only two issues were properly considered before the Inspector adjourned early due to a problem with the hearing in his left ear.
However, from a LAMBS perspective, it was still a very useful day with our barrister, Tom Cosgrove, exposing some of the truth behind Mayfields’ submissions.
The hearing began with Mid Sussex Council’s QC, Rupert Warren, in fighting form. Mr Warren challenged the Inspector’s view that Horsham’s newly adopted Local Plan should not be used as a yardstick for Mid Sussex.
“We are a tiny bit concerned about your approach to Horsham” said Mr Warren. “Unless we can see why different conclusions apply – in effect why the Horsham outcome was ‘wrong,’ and why it would be ok for there to be a completely different approach between the two parts of the HMA (Housing Market Area), we are going to struggle to justify to ourselves in the exercise of our duty.
“Consistency is a good thing in general – it is a legal requirement – if inconsistent decisions are reached then that can give rise obviously to a legal challenge.”
Mr Warren also pulled the Inspector up on his use of language, pointing out that using words like “proper” and “inappropriate” when describing a technical planning process might imply something “nefarious.”
“That kind of language, sir, might imply, to those who aren’t directly connected to the process, improper behaviour and some far more negative implications about the way the council has been approaching these matters,” he said.
The Inspector conceded this and put the record straight by commending the council for four years’ hard work;
“The council has put a great deal of work into this – in fact it made that point, in its recent submission, that it has been working on this for 4 years and you can see that in the volume of material that has come through. I make no criticism of the council in that respect.”
Mayfields team was without John Rhodes, but its barrister Satnam Choongh picked up the argument were they had left off last week by repeating Mr Rhodes’ claim that the plan is “unsound” and offering to “help” put this right:
“What we are offering is a review mechanism which would save this plan and make a plan which would otherwise be unsound sound.”
“It would give others such as ourselves the opportunity to come back to make our submissions.”
The Mayfields’ ‘mechanism’ – which advocates a review of the plan within just two years – was immediately shot down by LAMBS Barrister, Tom Cosgrove:
“You clearly can find this plan sound without a review mechanism,” he said. “I think my learned friend is alone in suggesting that it can’t. To have a mechanism in a plan anything like that suggested by Mayfields would lead to immediate uncertainty within days.”
He then pointed out that Mr Choongh had rather carelessly exposed the baldness of Mayfields strategy:
“The position of Mayfields has been revealed just then when my learned friend says ‘it would give us an opportunity to come back’”
The remainder of the hearing was largely taken up with some complex number crunching arguments from the Mid Sussex Developers Forum and debate on the methods by which the housing numbers should be calculated.
The Inspector then asked both the Council and MSDF to review a number of technical matters for discussion in the New Year. He finished by arranging two new hearing days on January 12 and 13 – the first for technical matters and the second to look at deliverability.
Thursday 12 January 2017 Day 5
The Examination of the Mid Sussex Local Plan resumes… and LAMBS has a secret weapon!
Today’s hearing got off to a slow start with some long and highly technical discussions about housing numbers. Predictably, the developers (Mayfields included) spent the morning trying to persuade the Inspector that the District’s proposals to provide a supply of 800 new homes per year are not enough.
Mid Sussex District Council’s Head of Planning, Chris Tunnell challenged the argument put forward by developers that a ‘significant uplift’ in the supply of new houses in the District would improve affordability:
“I can’t see that Mid Sussex operating alone would have much of an effect on the larger housing market,” he said, citing a new study by academics at Reading University.
Mr Tunnell also compared the developers’ theoretical economic arguments to the “panic” over the effects of Brexit, saying that raising the numbers disproportionately without proper reasoning would be “irresponsible.”
Mayfields said very little until after lunch, when John Rhodes repeated his arguments on the unmet housing need in Brighton – urging the Inspector, to impose an “early review” on the Plan to address the problem.
LAMBS Planning Consultant, Martin Carpenter pointed out that he agreed with the Council that this shortfall should be addressed as a “sub-regional issue” He added that an early review would undermine confidence in communities which had worked hard to produce Local Plans:
“This would disincentivise them to proceed with these neighbourhood planning reviews.”
LAMBS was then provided with an opportunity to bring out its secret weapon in the form of Countryside hero, Robert Worsley.
Robert dealt Mayfields a crushing blow by telling the Planning Inspector that “they don’t own the land” and therefore couldn’t “deliver” their proposal.
Here he is in action:
Robert’s appearance created a flurry of media interest with interviews on BBC Sussex and BBC South East. We will post the links for those of you (like us) who missed it!
Friday 13th January 2017 Day 6
Countryside hero ‘slam dunks’ developers
The big news today was that Mayfields finally got the treatment it deserved.
Just an hour and a half into the hearing, Mayfields’ Planning Advisor, John Rhodes (Quod Planning) once more drew attention to his client’s proposals to address the shortfall of houses in Brighton and the coastal areas. At this stage the Examination is not supposed to be ‘site specific’ so Mr Rhodes refrained from referring to Mayfields by name, however he repeatedly alluded to an option for a ‘new settlement’.
Mr Rhodes speech provided Twineham land owner and countryside hero, Robert Worlsey with the perfect opportunity to deliver a ‘slam dunk’ which could well have sunk Mayfields for good:
Robert began by referring to paragraph 173 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which states the need to establish that there is a willing landowner before a site can be considered.
“With respect to Mr Rhodes and his submission,” he then continued, “I know he says they’re not talking about specific sites here, but I think every submission they have made has made it very clear where their site is and where the epicentre of it is.
“As the land owner of the land in that area, I can confirm that the land is not available – it doesn’t have willing land owners there, both in terms of my land and the land belonging to all the farmers and landowners around me.”
“I can confirm that it (Mayfields) is not supported, it is not deliverable and frankly it’s a non starter from any constraint point of view,” he concluded. “It is the definition of ‘constrained.’”
Robert’s intervention was watched by Sir Nicholas Soames who had joined the hearing for the morning. Sir Nicholas quickly sent out a flurry of Tweets:
Nicholas Soames @nsoamesmp
Robt Worsley major landowner sinks unwanted @MayfieldTowns @Quodplanning “land not for sale” #realherocountrysideoweshimhugedebt
Nicholas Soames @nsoamesmp
Poor old @Quodplanning still flogging a dead horse @MayfieldTowns #notwantedhere
Nicholas Soames @nsoamesmp
At Examination Local Plan with hero of local countryside Robt Worsley who refuses to sell to ghastly @MayfieldTowns
After a coffee break it was the turn of CPRE Sussex’s Michael Brown to fly the flag for the countryside. Mr Brown pointed out that throughout the five days of the hearing so far the countryside had not been mentioned once:
“I guess it’s not the job of the people to my left (the developers) to look up from their layout plans or their balance sheets, look out of the window and concern themselves with how to develop positive policies for that part of the sustainable development plan,” he said. “greenery probably isn’t their thing.”
“But today, the countryside needs to be central in the context of how the plan properly balances the undoubted need for more houses with the environmental sustainability and enhancement.”
Mid Sussex District Council’s QC Rupert Warren broadly agreed with what Mr Brown had said and described how the council had grappled with the difficulties of providing so many new houses in such a constrained, rural area.
The hearing was adjourned shortly after lunch and is to resume for two more days on 8th & 9th February.
A full account of the last two day’s hearing will be posted on the LAMBS website soon.
Robert’s speech can be heard at this link:
Wednesday 8th February 2017 Day 7
How the mighty have fallen!
Today Mayfields’ Director, Lee Newlyn and his high profile adviser, John Rhodes and had to watch the resumed Examination of the Mid Sussex Local Plan from the back seats.
The controversial property company didn’t have a seat at the hearing because the council had chosen not to include the unwanted proposal as one of the sites being discussed to explain the methodology behind its housing figures.
Mr Rhodes could do nothing but watch as Mid Sussex’s QC, Rupert Warren rubbished his call to impose an early review on the Plan – a move which would have given Mayfields an excuse to continue pressurizing local communities.
Mr Warren didn’t mince his words saying that, in the light of the new Housing White Paper (published yesterday), an early review would;
“almost certainly overlap with – I’m tempted to use a more colourful metaphor – it would ‘crash into’ the potential changes to the whole process and we would end up with a real mess.”
Mr Newlyn left the hearing early leaving Mr Rhodes to sit out the final half hour alone.
The Inspector, Jonathan Bore concluded the day by promising to publish his interim findings in just over two weeks’ time.
The hearing will resume during the week starting 27th February.
Tuesday 28th February 2017 Day 8
The Elephant In The Room
We had the strangest experience back at the Mid Sussex Plan Examination today (day 8):
Topics up for discussion included biomass boilers, noise pollution and the best surface for cycle paths (the Inspector is obviously a keen cyclist)…
BUT THERE WAS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM!
The subject burning a hole in today’s apparently mundane proceedings was the not inconsiderable matter of the astronomical housing targets which the Inspector is trying to impose on the District… and which the council as said it will respond to “robustly”!
The Council’s QC, Rupert Warren alluded to this ‘elephant’ a number of times as, “a situation that has recently developed,” but no one dared mention it by name.
The reason for this strange interlude was that apparently there were some “non-housing policies” which needed to be put to bed before the Inspector’s controversial “Interim Findings” can be properly discussed.
Crunch day will be Friday (March 3) which has an agenda which clearly states:
“Hearing session on Housing issues following Inspector’s Interim findings”
It could be an explosive day.