ARUN’S local plan came under intense scrutiny during a difficult first day of public examination for district council planners.
Residents and developers challenged various aspects of the plan on Tuesday, questioning the legality and sustainability of the area’s long-term development plan.
Government inspector Roy Foster is chairing the hearings to scrutinise whether the plan meets legal and procedural requirements.
Villages Action Group barrister Ashley Bowes was among those to criticise the council, alleging it had ‘failed’ to adequately consider alternative development sites.
He said: “There are a number of opportunities throughout where potential alternatives have not been assessed because of a lack of evidence on its part. That is simply not good enough.”
Dr Bowes added the council’s admission that further work was needed on certain aspects could be a ‘show stopper’ and ‘fatal’.
Tony Dixon, representing Ford Enterprise Hub, accused the council of ‘predetermining’ its opposition to the initiative, which could have delivered around 5,000 homes, a new link road and parkway railway station.
He said Arun’s cabinet opposed the idea, launching a ‘knee-jerk’ campaign after it was shortlisted by the Government.
“It had already voted to campaign against it, then took part in selection of a select committee so it’s probably no surprise the findings were what they are,” he said.
Arun officers attempted to defend the plan, believing it met legal requirements and had undertaken all the work possible.
But Mr Dixon said its representatives had been ‘left in the lurch’ while its most senior officers were hosting planning training next door.
Assistant director for planning and regeneration Karl Roberts helped steady the ship in the afternoon, responding to concerns the authority had not gone far enough in co-operating with its neighbours to address likely housing shortfalls.
He said: “Overall, has the council met its legal duty? We argue yes, through all the work we have done trying to work with our neighbours and others to try and make the area work holistically.”
An Arun spokesman added: “The one day training session was arranged for councillors well in advance of when we knew the dates of the local plan examination in public.”
The spokesman said the session did not involve any officers who would not be assisting with the local plan examination and that officers from the council’s planning department will be present throughout the examination to ensure any questions the inspector has are answered ‘as fully as possible’.
The examination is due to finish tomorrow.