New Monks Farm – can the Secretary of State see sense?
By Laura Brook
Whether or not you’re a fan of flat pack furniture, you're bound to have heard about the possible arrival of the big IKEA in Lancing.
The story so far
Long before IKEA was officially on the table for this site, the Sussex Wildlife Trust was engaged in the consultation process for the Adur Local Plan, which determines where development will be located in Adur District. Right from the outset (2013) we were concerned about this particular site’s capacity to deliver sustainable development. This is because the site acts like a green sponge and is criss-crossed by a network of ditches that feed into the Adur Estuary SSSI. Biodiversity records confirm the significant value of this site to wildlife, while its location tells us of its value as a green stepping stone in the wider wildlife network of Adur District.
Frustratingly, despite our opposition, the site did progress to the next stage in the planning process. This saw a policy drawn up to develop the site and Sussex Wildlife Trust worked hard to try and ensure that the natural environmental would be given a fair deal alongside the proposals for housing and commercial space.
Our continued efforts helped to secure a policy requirement for at least 28 hectares of the site to become a Country Park. Given the size of the proposed development, we knew that this Country Park would be required to fulfill lots of different needs; from space for wildlife to flood alleviation, space for recreation, cycle paths, footpaths, biodiversity mitigation, quiet areas, busy routes, landscape buffering and much more, so the bigger it is, the better chance it has of being successful in delivering these many functions, whilst still being a haven for wildlife.
When a planning application arrives on our desk, our primary focus as a Wildlife Trust has to be the biodiversity impacts but it was clear from the start that a number of wider concerns would also need to be addressed. Many local groups joined together to highlight the ways in which this proposed development was a departure from existing planning policy and failing to be sustainable - whether this was the failure to sufficiently address sustainable transport issues, concerns about the growing impacts on air quality or delivery of local infrastructure such as schools and flood alleviation, or the unacceptable impact this application has on the South Downs National Park, which is amplified by the South Downs National Parks Authorities continued objection to the proposal.
All of these matters and many more besides ignited fierce debate and clearly illustrated the importance of a strong alliance between the various environmental organisations in Sussex. We are really proud to work so closely with colleagues in these organisations to ensure that key environmental messages are conveyed as strongly as possible.
Following two Planning Committee meetings, one of which saw the application deferred due to the environmental impacts of IKEA on the South Downs National Park, the development was eventually approved by a vote of 5 to 3 in a very emotionally-charged sports hall, filled with people both for and against the proposals.
As it stands, the approved application significantly exceeds the policy's commercial space requirements by delivering a huge 31,099 square metres; it meets the minimum housing numbers; and yet it fails to deliver the agreed 28 hectares of Country Park, instead scraping in at just 25.5 hectares - and there is still an outstanding objection from the South Downs National Park Authority. It is incredibly frustrating when so many people work so hard to get a policy in place, only to see the approval of an application that departs significantly from it, bringing the whole system into question. We support a plan-led system and believe that councils must uphold the Local Plans and policies that were agreed through this democratic process.
So, where do we find ourselves now?
Following the Planning Committee's decision to approve the application, the alliance of local groups who remain concerned about this application are now mobilising to ask the Secretary of State to call in the application. What does this mean? In simple terms, it offers an opportunity for the application and the information that supports it to be scrutinised by the Secretary of State, who will then decide whether it should go ahead or not.
If you'd like to get involved, the time to act is now
All the information about the call-in process, the many reasons behind the request and how you can add your voice to the call can be found on the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) website.