The Rt Hon Michael Gove, MP Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Cc Nus Ghani MP, Wealden
Cc Stuart Andrew, Minister of State for Housing
Representatives from a number of Wealden Parish Councils wrote to you on the 6th December 2021 voicing their concerns about the volume of new housing developments in our area, exacerbated by central government targets for housing delivery demanded of Wealden District Council. As residents of the adjacent Little Horsted Parish we are in the eye of the storm in terms of current and future projected developments, and wish to add our voice to those expressing concern about the present situation.
We are privileged to live in an area with an important rural and agricultural heritage, and recognise the considerable challenge posed in balancing the demand to meet significant new housing needs with the need to protect the local environment for current and future residents. As referenced in the Parish Councils letter that challenge is heightened by the geography and demographics of our area. Those of us in the Low Weald area are sandwiched by the High Weald AONB and Ashdown Forest to the north and the South Downs National Park to the south. Planning constraints and perceived priorities have concentrated developments to areas local to us to meet raw target figures, and it is time that the specifics of those targets are reviewed.
In February 2020 Wealden District Council formally withdrew its draft Wealden Local Plan 2019 following its Stage One examination process. In the absence of a Local Plan there is a presumption bias in favour of development which has led to an outbreak of speculative planning applications centred around us. Urgent action is needed to prevent land banking / acquisitions being held for an indeterminate time until housing is delivered. A burden of expectation that threatens our environment and is unsupported by current infrastructure provision has arisen.
The consequence of the current poorly regulated accumulation of building projects will be the loss of our current distribution of town and villages and descent towards homogenous commuter hubs. Growing demand for services requires measures now to deliver community infrastructure improvements in the form of new school places, health care provision, transport and communication access in advance of further housing developments.
A debate took place in Westminster Hall yesterday morning on “Planning Permission and Housing Needs Numbers for Wealden” led by our local MP Nus Ghani with a response from Stuart Andrew, Minister of State for Housing.
We would endorse a number of important points Ms Ghani made in her concluding remarks, specifically:
- Housing targets should be advisory not mandatory
- The infrastructure levy should be adapted to provide infrastructure before new houses are built
- Planning permissions should be managed on a “use it or lose it” basis
- Housing number allocations should include new home permissions
- Stop penalising councils for undeveloped planning permissions when it is the developers at fault for not building out permissions
- Consideration given to stamp duty exemptions for last time buyers to encourage downsizing
The Minister’s reply to those remarks were somewhat temporising in nature, with little in the way of specifics to provide reassurance that the required changes in approach are imminent. We would be interested to hear your response to the above concerns shared by our local community.
Michelle Coates (Chair, Little Horsted Parish Meeting)