A dichotomy – definition: a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.
And this is where we find ourselves with planning in south-east England. The dichotomy is Nature vs Development (or is it Development vs Nature?). Local Authorities under the expectation of meeting nationally set housing targets, versus their ability to integrate these into the landscape, whilst valuing and embedding Nature’s Recovery in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.
Which one should come first? At Sussex Wildlife Trust we fear that the presumption is for development. We need our Local Planning Authorities to challenge this presumption, and act like there is a climate and ecological emergency.
The Horsham Local Plan process that is currently in train is based on a developer-led assessment of the large proposed allocation sites, to fulfil large housing targets created through a national policy of ‘Build, Build, Build’. When you dig into the detail, several of these developers make spurious claims on the ecological benefits of the development (often accompanied with idyllic illustrations of what the final development will look like) and ambiguous statements about who they have been liaising with to seek ecological advice, making it sound as if their proposals are endorsed by ourselves and others.
And there is more and more and more, in just one district.
Sussex Wildlife Trust has maintained its commitment to the Local Plan process, commenting on all stages and documents presented to us. But ultimately Horsham District Council need urgent and compelling discussions internally and at a national level, to challenge their nationally-driven target with the local reality of building a meaningful Nature Recovery Network, and how much development this vision can sustain. They have the backing of Local MP Andrew Griffiths who has been centrally challenging housing number allocations.
The Wilder Horsham District Project was created consciously, fully aware of the challenges the District faces. This is a project where we are working with communities and landowners to deliver a Nature Recovery Network for the District. Nature’s Recovery remains our primary objective and both Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council embarked on this important five year project in 2020, knowing full well that it would not alter Sussex Wildlife Trust’s ability to comment, challenge or speak up for nature in the District. The reality is that it has enabled us to share a vision for wildlife with Councillors at a level we have never before achieved in our previous work with Local Authorities. But unsustainable and unrealistic housing numbers is a widespread problem and the time to challenge it is now.
We believe that by challenging the national figures this is standing up for nature when it is truly needed. We believe that the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework allows for national/local decisions of this nature and as such Horsham District Council should exercise this right.
In Local Plan language, we propose that Horsham District Council commit to running another Regulation 18 consultation allowing more local input with proper evidence on their vision for nature, rather than going straight into a Regulation 19 consultation, where there is significantly less option for influence.
We know that the Councillors are in a challenging situation – but decisions made in this Local Plan Review will have permanent and irreversible local impact. We believe that the risks of slowing the process through a second Regulation 18 consultation are worth the landscape changing, extinction driving options that are currently on the table. We cannot afford more loss of nature and the opportunities for Nature’s Recovery at the scale proposed.