Every district council has to have a development plan and our area has more than one. We have a Lewes District Development plan which covers Peachaven, Newhaven Seaford and the north of the District, the South Downs National Park plan which covers Lewes and the National Park area, and the East Sussex County plan, which covers things like minerals and schools, which the County is responsible for. These plans are important because they are a framework against which individual planning applications are judged.
But increasingly, town and parish councils have got involved in drawing up their own neighbourhood plans for their area. These plans must not contradict the other plans, but can add more detail. In theory they have the same status as the other plans, but this is not always the case. In Newick recently, a proposal for new housing was allowed even though it was not in the Newick plan, although this is still subject to dispute.
LEWES LOW COST HOUSING
Lewes Town is currently drawing up its own neighbourhood plan. Some time in the process people working on the plan suggested that the plan should include the requirement to provide “Lewes Low Cost Housing” The district plan sets out a default position that any development of significant size includes 40% “affordable housing”, but since this can involve rents of up to 80% of the commercial market rent, this is not much good for local people on low incomes who want to rent.
A one bedroomed flat in Lewes is likely to cost £180 per week and up with 2 bedroomed property generally going for between £200 and £280 per week. Despite the apparent affluence of Lewes, those who want to rent long term are likely to be on low wages and unable to afford even 80% of these figures.
New councilor Chelsea Renton fought for the Lewes Low Cost Housing proposal on the town council . This was opposed by some on the grounds that this would not be allowed and the plans would be rejected by officials. But the proposal was passed by the town council and became part of the plan.
PASSING THE EXAMINATION
The official concerned is the independent examiner.
The South Downs National Park Authority appointed Mr Andrew Ashcroft, as the Independent Examiner of the Lewes Neighbourhood. The Examiner assessed whether the Plan met legal requirements and fitted with the other plans.
Mr Ashcroft has now issued his report. You can read it here.
He has NOT struck out Lewes Low Cost Housing not meeting legal requirements or contradicting other plans, despite fears that he would do so. Lewes Low Cost Housing will go forward as part of the plan.
He was broadly supportive of the plan as a whole, although he did make a number of detailed changes and suggested that a District Council development off of Blois Road was not appropriate.
The plan has a number of further hoops to jump through but it looks like the principle of low cost housing for ordinary people has been accepted.
Even if the plan comes into force this does not mean that we will see an outbreak of new housing that people can actually (as opposed to theoretically) afford.
The plan does not cover developments that have already got permission, such as the Lewes North Street Quarter.
Developers can get out of the provision if they can show that providing low cost, or even affordable housing would make the scheme “unviable”, although a council could then refuse the application. But the onus would be on the developer to prove that low cost housing could not be provided.
But nevertheless it is a step forward in a town where a form of social cleansing is going on as people with low incomes are being driven out by housing costs. Some recent surveys suggest that up to a quarter of children in the town are growing up in poverty, a figure that would be reduced to 15% if housing costs were lower.
Town and parish council members who would like to include similar proposals in their plans should contact the Lewes Eye at firstname.lastname@example.org
Local plans are a key part of the planning process. If an area is zoned for, for example, industry, it is very hard to argue against a planning application in that area for an industrial site. You can only haggle about the design and similar minor things. If somewhere is zoned for housing and meets the criteria, then an application for housing of a reasonable design must be passed. If this proposal is finalised, then the provision of low cost housing would be part of the criteria.
Once the plan is agreed and passed by a planning inspector and the secretary of state it is almost set in stone, so the decision is a very important one.