DIFFICULT decisions define the success of politicians – and in solving the area’s housing needs, they face perhaps the toughest challenge yet.
The Government’s population figures spell the need for 1,685 homes to be built across Arun, Adur and Worthing each year until the early 2030s.
But having never delivered anything near those numbers, councils may face a fight to protect precious green spaces.
“There has to be a recognition by the community that we can’t just continue to do things in the way we have always done them,” said councillor Kevin Jenkins, chairman of Worthing Borough Council’s planning committee.
“We have got to allow development. We have got to allow some change within the town to create housing for our families but also safeguard areas that are really valuable as a community.”
Local plans the key
Local authorities are in the process of producing meaty documents known as local plans, which act as a blueprint for the vision of future housing.
It is these documents which identify which sites are suitable for housing and those that are not.
Each speck of land goes through a complex assessment process, considering issues such as flood risk and expected use – from employment land to housing.
And when the local plan is complete, it becomes the first line of defence in protecting sites that matter to the community. Without it, developers are free to apply for planning permission speculatively on any land they have an interest in.
At the heart of the plan is a housing target, set by the Government using population projections and expected levels of migration into the area.
The data, known as ‘objectively assessed needs’, or ‘OAN’, must be the starting point of any local plan. Councils must begin on the assumption they need to deliver that number, providing strong justification if the number cannot be met.
As it stands, Worthing’s OAN is 636 homes per year, Adur’s 291 and Arun’s 758.
In most years, the councils have delivered a fraction of those targets.
Arun District Council cabinet member for planning and infrastructure Ricky Bower said: “Across the piece it is a difficult conundrum.
“With Arun, we now have housing figure of 758 a year, when history has shown that the very best developers were able to achieve was three years ago and they only managed 630.
“Normally, as far as the district is concerned, we do somewhere between 300 and 400. The fact that the housing delivery from developers is not keeping to pace with the local plan as required only acknowledges the fact that development industry is a constraint.”
Up in arms
Deciding what areas are suitable for development can prove hugely controversial, with strong recent opposition to land allocations in Arun and Adur.
Villagers are up in arms over Arun’s suggestion that up to 3,000 homes could be built at Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate, while the Adur Floodwatch group has grave concerns over potential development at New Monks Farm.
Expanding Sompting with the inclusion of plans for 480 homes on greenfield land west of the village was deemed ‘too much’ by a parish councillor when first mooted.
Even with such development, Adur’s plan is expected to fall 2,000 homes short over the plan period.
“You are always trying to please the many and you are bound to disappoint the few along the way. It is democracy,” said Adur District Council cabinet member for regeneration Pat Beresford.
On the OAN issue, he said: “We are dealing with a top down process. The minister takes a national figure and divides it up by the regions until it gets down to little Adur.
“You get to a point where you recognise there is a shortfall between these two figures and deal with what we can actually do.”
Pressure on green spaces
With expected shortfalls in housing targets and what is deliverable, the pressure to develop greenfield sites may be increased.
Worthing successfully defended spaces like Goring Gap in its 2011 local plan but is now going through that process again. Vast changes in its OAN has led the council to start from scratch and begin production of a new local plan.
Mr Jenkins said: “You leave no stone unturned. Nothing is a given but nothing is taken away and you have to objectively look at all of the land that is available in Worthing and we have to say what is it we want to protect.
“None of us wants to see green spaces go but if we are honest, pieces of it might well be eroded over the next ten or 15 years. We need to determine what is really valuable to us in key locations.”
Worthing councillor for Castle ward Luke Proudfoot believed the key to protecting greenfield sites was high density housing on the area’s brownfield sites.
Mr Proudfoot was one of just two councillors who last month voted in favour of proposals for the old Aquarena swimming pool on Worthing seafront. A controversial 21-storey tower block attracted hundreds of objections.
“If we can maximise the number of houses on these sites, we have a chance of being able to protect greenfield land,” he said.
After years of consultation, reports and studies, local plans are tested by government inspectors at a series of public hearings.
If plans are deemed legally sound, they are ‘made’ and provide a guide for development for more than a decade.
Arun’s has been ‘suspended’ for 18 months for more work on whether it can meet its OAN. Worthing’s may be in place by 2018 and Adur’s is planned for submission to the inspector next year.
Given the importance of the subject, Mr Jenkins urged all residents to get involved in consultation as plans progressed.