September 5, 2017
Next spring we will submit the first ever Local Plan for the South Downs National Park to the Government – setting out planning policies across the whole of the National Park, how land is used and what can be built where. But first we need to have one final full public consultation.
If you’re not familiar with planning you may never have heard of local plans, but they have the power to make a big difference to the world around you. This is particularly the case for the South Downs where development needs to be properly managed in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage for which the National Park was designated seven years ago.
During those seven years our planners – both within the National Park Authority and working under delegated authority in other local authorities – have been using more than a thousand policies from the 12 local planning authorities responsible for managing development before 2011. The draft Local Plan will replace these with just 96 policies, consistent across the whole National Park from the edge of Eastbourne to Winchester.
It has taken some years to get to this point. Firstly because work on the Local Plan needed to be informed by evidence gathered for the State of the Park Report (published in November 2012), the policies developed for the Partnership Management Plan (published in January 2014) and Joint Core Strategies prepared in partnership with Lewes, East Hants and Winchester.
Then, as with any local plan, our Local Plan for the National Park had to go through a number of drafts, each being tested along the way by more research, evidence and public consultation. In September 2015 we asked people to let us know what they thought of our preferred options for the plan – 400 individuals and organisations responded – and more than 2,600 individual comments were fed back into the plan we have today. We have also ensured neighbourhood plans, plans led by local communities, have guided our thoughts and the plans proposals.
This is the first Local Plan to cover the entire South Downs National Park and we have said from the start that it must put these nationally important landscapes first – they are the reason the South Downs became a National Park and they must sit at the heart of every planning decision we make. In developing the plan we have also set out the high standards that all proposed development must meet to protect and value nature – both for its own sake and also for the vital ‘eco-system’ services it gives us such as clean water, food, wood and space to breathe.
The National Park’s landscapes have always depended on people and development – in our farms, market towns and villages – and today is no different. 112,000 people live in the National Park and these communities need access to affordable homes and places to work. Development will happen, our Local Plan must follow the national planning policy framework (NPPF), but we can make sure that it is appropriate. For us putting the landscapes first means making sure we get the right growth in the right places. In support of our Local Plan, 50 Neighbourhood Plans are being or have been developed by South Downs communities, each providing local development management policies and most allocating land for development.
We are very close to the final draft but nothing is set in stone until we submit it to the Government’s Planning Inspectorate. The Inspector’s role is to test the ‘soundness’ of our draft plan, whether the duty to co-operate has been met and whether it is legally compliant. Soundness, set out in full in paragraph 182 of the NPPF (link at end of article), looks at whether the plan is positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.
This autumn we are asking you to give final comments on the Local Plan. Every comment will be passed to the Government’s Planning Inspector who will respond to them as part of their examination into the Local Plan.
We hope to submit our final draft South Downs Local Plan to the Planning Inspector in spring 2018.