Horsham Local Plan

Horsham District Council is reviewing their Local Plan. The public consultation on the council’s new draft plan (Regulation 19) was scheduled to be for a six-week period from September 2021. However, the meeting of the Cabinet members and Council where the consultation details were due to be approved was cancelled. Initially this was because the officers needed to look at the implications of the revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework that was published this year. However, there has been a second delay through Natural England publishing a position statement setting out concerns about the impact of development on internationally important wildlife sites in the Arun Valley. 

We do not yet know what these delays mean for the plan or how long it will be before the council can run a public consultation. However, we will be looking out for the local plan as an agenda item in future Horsham council meetings. This is because a draft of the plan and some of the evidence base should be made available a week before the relevant meeting, so it gives everyone a sneak peek before the public consultation starts. In the meantime we have collated some information to help you understand the process and prepare to submit your own comments if and when a plan is approved for public consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Horsham Local Plan consultation

What is a Regulation 19 consultation?

When a Local Planning Authority (LPA), in this case Horsham District Council (HDC), is writing a new local plan, they have a legal requirement to consult with the public. The first round of official consultation is called Regulation 18 after the regulation of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 which say this has to happen. At Regulation 18, LPAs must allow people to make comments on what a plan should contain. The Regulation 18 consultation on their Draft Plan ran until 30th March 2020. You can read the Sussex Wildlife Trust's official response to that consultation here: SWT response to Horsham Local Plan 2020 FINAL

A Regulation 19 consultation is the next stage. At this point HDC have looked at the responses to the previous consultation and have used this, and other information, to come up with a final plan that the council thinks meets all the legal and policy requirements it must adhere to. This plan is called the ‘Pre-submission Local Plan’.

What can I say in my comments?

At this stage (Regulation 19), comments have to relate to whether the Plan complies with all the relevant legal requirements and whether it is ‘sound’ in terms of national planning policy. 

If you wish to make representations on the way in which the Council has prepared the Plan, it is likely that your comments or objections will relate to a matter of legal compliance. If you wish to make representations on the content of the Plan (either to support or object), your comments will need to address whether you consider that the Plan is ‘sound’ when considered against the specific tests of soundness set out in national planning policy.

Paragraph 35 of the National Planning Policy Framework says that Local plans are ‘sound’ if they are:

a) Positively prepared – providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;

b) Justified – an appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence;

c) Effective – deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic matters that have been dealt with rather than deferred, as evidenced by the statement of common ground; and

d) Consistent with national policy – enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in this Framework.

It is important that you relate your comments to these requirements, as this is what the Planning Inspector will test the Plan against. All representations submitted during the coming consultation will be submitted for consideration by a Planning Inspector at the Plan Examination, which is likely to be in 2022. However, the Inspector will only take notice of those comments that are justified in relation to the test of soundness or legal compliance.

For example, a comment that just says ‘I object to this policy’ will have more impact if it is followed with a sound reason for the objection. For example, ‘I object to this policy because it contradicts paragraph XX of the National Planning Policy Framework and therefore is not consistent with national policy’.

It is also helpful to suggest what changes need to be made to improve the issue. For example, removal or changes to the boundary of a site allocation or perhaps changes to the wording of a policy. You can support and object to different parts of the Plan and you do not have to comment on every section.

What evidence do I need to provide in my response?

It is important to remember that Regulation 19 is the last opportunity to make submissions on a Plan, so your response needs to include any evidence you want to rely on to make your point. All representations will be passed to the Inspector and then they will decide if an issue warrants further discussion during the Examination.

Whilst you may be able to speak to the Inspector at the Examination hearings, they will expect you to rely on the information you submitted during the consultation. Usually Inspectors don’t allow further evidence to be submitted during the Examination.  Any evidence submitted with your response should be clear and to the point. Additionally, only representors who are seeking a change to the Plan have a right to be heard at the Examination hearings.

What environmental information is provided?

We won't know this until all the consultation documents are made public. However, Sussex Wildlife Trust commented on the previous draft stating our concerned about the lack of environmental evidence that was being used to inform and justify the decisions being made by the council. In this next round of consultation, we will be looking to see how the council have addressed these issues and what steps have been taken to ensure that a Local Plan positive for biodiversity is being progressed. Documents we will be looking out for include the Sustainability Appraisal, Settlement Sustainability Assessment, Green Infrastructure Strategy and any evidence relating to the Nature Recovery Network.

Paragraph 31 of the NPPF says: ‘The preparation and review of all policies should be underpinned by relevant and up-to-date evidence. This should be adequate and proportionate, focused tightly on supporting and justifying the policies concerned, and take into account relevant market signals.’  

Further to this, Paragraph 179 of the NPPF says: ‘To protect and enhance biodiversity and geodiversity, plans should:  Identify, map and safeguard components of local wildlife-rich habitats and wider ecological networks, including the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites of importance for biodiversity; wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them; and areas identified by national and local partnerships for habitat management, enhancement, restoration or creation’  

For us this evidence base is really vital as it helps us to assess likely impacts of policies and site allocations. Without up to date baseline information it is very difficult to make detailed comments on proposals. 

What about the Habitats Regulations Assessment Screening Report?

The Habitats Regulations Assessment Screening Report (HRA) is a document that HDC must legally produce which assesses any risks to internationally designated sites only i.e. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites. Whilst it is really, really important that the LPA considers impacts on these extremely valuable sites, this is just one element of the evidence base and does not look at general wildlife or locally or nationally designated sites. The HRA will be particularly important in relation to the Arun Valley and Natural England's concerns about overabstraction. 

What about the Sustainability Appraisal?

Again the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) is a legal requirement and a document that will be repeatedly amended as the LPA work through the process of making a Local Plan. The main purpose of a SA is to appraise the social, environmental and economic effects of a plan from the outset. In order to help ensure that decisions are made that contribute to achieving sustainable development. The SA looks at all elements of sustainability, not specifically biodiversity. So again, whilst we will comment on the SA it is not a complete evidence base when it comes to nature.

What about the site allocations such as ‘Buck Barn’ and ‘West of Ifield’?

Sussex Wildlife Trust is very concerned about the amount of housing proposed in the draft Plan and how this will impact on wildlife and importantly the potential for nature to recover in the district. We understand that the council is under a lot of pressure to deliver the number of houses set out by Government Policy, however this must be within environmental limits, and in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, which is clear on the role of wildlife, connectivity, corridors and local strategies and plans for these.  Horsham District Council have a draft Nature Recovery Network Map for the District.  This has been compiled using the best available evidence by the Wilder Horsham District Project.  This is a partnership Project between Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council.  This has not been prepared as a planning document, but a document to show the optimum locations for Nature’s Recovery in the District.  It is a document that signposts evidence that we expect to be made available for this Regulation 19 consultation.  It shows that Buck Barn and West of Ifield are both developments proposed in areas also identified for Nature’s Recovery.  The Knepp Estate provides the largest core area for wildlife in the District, and as such the nature corridors leading from it are fundamental to the role of Knepp within the wider Nature Recovery Network.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust will to look at the detail of how the Council are justifying the selection of strategic sites chosen, what impact it thinks this will have and what is being proposed to avoid and mitigate this impact. We will look at the environmental evidence presented and consider if this is sufficient. The policy wording that supports allocations is also incredibly important to scrutinise as if allocations go ahead, this wording will be fundamental in trying to make things as good as they can be for wildlife.

Again Sussex Wildlife Trust will focus on biodiversity, connectivity and the future of a Horsham District Nature Recovery Network. However, there will be many other issues that can be raised in relation to potential site allocations. There are already local action groups for most of the allocation who will be able to highlight wider concerns about sites.

When will Sussex Wildlife Trust share its position?

When a consultation goes ahead, we will try to publish our comments well before the deadline, so that everyone can see what we think. We do not want to be premature and must make sure we consider all of the available evidence. We understand that people are very concerned about the amount of housing proposed in Horsham District and that they want to understand how they can influence this. We will do our best to help you understand the process and make sure that your comments are as effective as possible

You can read more about the Local Plan Examination Process on the Government website here.