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Deputy Leader calls on government to ‘rip up’ 783 housing target

Cabinet councillors at Lewes District Council have called on the government to ‘rip up’ their method for working out the numbers of new homes that must be built in the district every year. Currently, the government formula requires the construction of 783 properties every year across the district. 

The councillors were speaking during a Cabinet meeting today (December 8) about the preparation of the local plan. The meeting followed an announcement this week by the government to make their 300,000 annual house building target ‘advisory’ rather than mandatory, however, Cabinet councillors described the news as offering ‘false hope’ for local residents.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Deputy Leader of Lewes District Council, said:

“The comments by the Secretary of State for Levelling-Up creates a smokescreen to pacify all those who are as appalled by the government’s housing targets as we are in Lewes district.

“The announcement offers zero certainty for residents and instead spreads false hope that unwanted development now won’t happen.”

A recent consultation with residents generated an ‘unprecedented’ 42,000 comments about future development in the district and where it should be built.

The current local plan timetable was approved in July 2020, however, new national policy within the government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and the need to assess each of the 42,000 comments received and other evidence, means a revised programme is now required.   

Councillor Stephen Gauntlett, Cabinet Member for Planning, said:

“We have had a lot of different sites submitted to consider for inclusion in the local plan and an unprecedented 42,000 responses from residents to the issues and options consultation. This level of response alone sends the clearest signal to the government that their planning system is not fit for purpose and requires root and branch changes.

“We have had comments on all the areas we asked for, comments ranging from climate change to what options to consider for new development.

“It is an extraordinary number of responses at this early stage of the plan making process, especially for a district like ours and the council’s small team of planning officers has the herculean task of carefully considering each one.” 

Local plans provide a clear strategy for future growth, guiding decisions on the locations, amount and type of development that is needed, such as new homes, health and education provision, transport links and sites that will create employment opportunities.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson added: “The government’s planning system has united people against it, not least because these ill-conceived housing numbers are causing great and unnecessary concern to many communities. They should rip up their method for working them out and listen to local people, not policy makers in Whitehall.

“All our residents can be assured that we will continue to painstakingly gather and analyse all the evidence and it is only by leaving no stone unturned that we will be able to demonstrate to the planning inspector,  at the examination stage, the level of new housing that is sustainable for our district, not what the government dictates that we must build.” 

Our local plan was adopted in 2016 and set an annual housing requirement of 345 homes, but the government new formula, introduced in 2020, has more than doubled the number.

Councillor Gauntlett said: “Our local plan was the subject of a rigorous consultation process and included realistic housing numbers, providing sound protection against maverick speculation. It would make sense in my view to have that plan reinstated!”