Author Jess Price
The planning system in England exists to ensure that development is in the public interest with positive outcomes for people, the environment and the economy. It follows a plan-led system which involves preparing plans that set out what can be built and where. With development pressure increasing in Sussex, it is vital that local people and organisations like the Sussex Wildlife Trust engage in this strategic level of planning to ensure our natural capital is valued and protected.
Many of the local authorities in Sussex are currently producing local plans which lay out where development will go and what it will look like for the next 20 years or more. The policies these plans contain are what all planning applications will be decided against. The Sussex Wildlife Trust passionately feels that the environment should not be seen as a barrier to development, but a priority for protection in local plans. After all if we don’t protect and enhance our natural capital, Sussex may not be a very nice place to live in 20 years time for people or wildlife.
Some plans, like the Horsham District Planning Framework, are already at the proposed submission stage. This means the final draft of the plan is ready to be given to a planning inspector who will decide whether plan has been prepared in accordance with the duty to cooperate, legal requirements and the test of soundness. For a plan to be ‘sound’ it needs to be:
- Positively prepared i.e. based on a strategy which meets development and infrastructure requirements
- Justified i.e. the most appropriate strategy based on evidence
- Effective i.e. deliverable over its period and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities
- Consistent with national policy i.e. accord with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
The Sussex Wildlife Trust is a nature conservation charity and as such we focus on whether plans aim to protect and enhance biodiversity sufficiently. Some of the things we look for in a plan when deciding whether we think it is sound or not include:
- The evidence base - what information have the local planning authority used to inform their strategy? Paragraph 158 of the NPPF says that ‘Each local planning authority should ensure that the Local Plan is based on adequate, up-to-date and relevant evidence…’ Have they used the most up-to-date species and habitat data from the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre? Have they produced an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Green Infrastructure Strategy?
- Biodiversity gains - does the plan look to achieve net gains in biodiversity through policies and strategic allocations as per paragraph 109 of the NPPF?
- Ecological networks - does the plan look to contribute to the delivery of a ecological coherent network or do policies and allocations compromise that network? Paragraph 117 of the NPPF
- Natural capital - does the plan recognise the true value of ecosystem services as require by paragraph 109 of the NPPF?
Anybody can take part in the local plan process by submitting comments and if you want to influence what happens to your county in the future it is important to get involved. Remember not to focus entirely on the place you live, the plans for neighbouring local authorities may well impact on your local area.
The deadline for comments on the proposed submission Horsham District Planning Framework is this Friday 27th June. Do not let an opportunity to affect what happens in Horsham District and the surrounding area pass you by. Make your voice heard by submitting comments on whether or not you think the plan is sound.