CONTROVERSIAL plans to build thousands of homes in Arun have been approved by the narrowest of margins.
At a packed full council meeting last Wednesday, councillors approved plans for 2,000 homes to be built in Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate, as had been expected.
But the vote itself proved one of the closest in years, with 23 for, 18 against and four abstaining on the proposals.
Plans to build 600 homes in Angmering proved less divisive, with 32 in favour, 11 against and two abstaining.
By agreeing where and how many homes should be built in the district, Arun District Council will now move forward in attempting to formally adopt its new local plan.
During an impassioned meeting, opinion was broadly split between councillors who felt a local plan needed to be adopted quickly as a defence against speculative development and those who felt the plan needed to be revised.
Littlehampton Beach ward Lib-Dem councillor Dr James Walsh described the plans as a ‘farce’, arguing the views of councillors and the public had not been listened to by Arun officers.
He was one of several councillors who queried why other locations, such as Ford and Fontwell, had not been considered in more detail as potential strategic sites.
The areas were among a top tier of locations picked by councillors at a seminar in February as potential strategic sites, but were not part of the recommendations made by council officers.
Dr Walsh said: “I was asked to come to a seminar to identify new areas following the discussion we had at full council at the end of January.
“From that seminar, we came forward with distinct recommendations to widen the brief of the local plan to include land at Ford, land at south Fontwell and include land at north-east Pagham.
“I left that meeting under the distinct impression that the the members’ views on that would be taken into consideration and would amend the plan that would come back to this council.
“In retrospect, the whole thing seems to have been a farce. Members’ views are listened to politely and then put in the dustbin. Members are here to listen to members of the public and respect their views and listen to them with respect.”
Barnham councillors John Charles and Jean Goad vociferously opposed both the number of homes proposed and the strategic sites, as they have at previous council meetings, to cheers from an audience strongly opposed to the plans.
Together with Dr Walsh, they proposed an amendment to the recommendations.
The amendment would see 500 homes built in Fontwell, 500 in Westergate, 500 in Ford and 250 in north-east Pagham, in place of the recommended proposals for 2,000 in Barnham, Eastergate and Westergate.
However, the amendment was defeated by 29 to 12, with four abstaining.
Those councillors in favour of the recommendations argued variously for the need for more affordable housing, a local plan as a defence against speculative development and the need to fund infrastructural improvements through developer contributions.
Ricky Bower, cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, said: “We’ve had numerous planning permissions granted on appeal in the Barnham/Eastergate area and none of those have actually delivered infrastructure, let alone improved school accommodation in the area.
“The development being proposed here is going to go a long way to redress some of the infrastructure issues that exist up there, because the people of Barnham and Eastergate deserve better than the infrastructure they are currently having to cope with.
“Do they want better infrastructure or not, that is the question.” To which one audience member replied: “Let us tell you.”
However, Ham ward Labour councillor Tony Squires said it was wrong that councils now needed developers to fund infrastructure improvements which previously would have been paid for by central Government.
Cllr Squires said: “These homes unfortunately are foisted upon us by central Government. All of this is foisted upon us, that we have to get developers to pay money for infrastructure the Government should be sorting out in the first place. We’ve got a ministry of transport and they should be sorting out the roads, not the local authority.
“If we want this infrastructure, first of all we’ve got to convince the people in Government it’s their responsibility in the ministry of transport. The same comes with the flooding issue. I worked with the river authorities in the ’60s and back then the ditches were cleared every year. And then what happened? Cuts, cuts, cuts, and where are we? Everything floods now.
“Now we’re in an awkward situation where we have to build, 400, 500, 600, 700 homes so we have enough money to put a bit of road in. What a disgrace.”
The council also voted that West Bank, in Littlehampton, and Fontwell and Ford should be taken forward as areas that can potentially deliver 1,000 homes from years 11 onwards of the local plan. The plan will have to face an Examination in Public – the process by which public views are heard on a local plan before an independent inspector – before it is approved.