ARUN District Council’s inability to identify enough land for housing left councillors with ‘no option’ but to approve controversial plans for 400 homes at Fontwell today (Wednesday, November 25).
Villagers strongly objected to developer Dandara’s plans for greenfield land east of Fontwell Avenue, fearing it would turn surrounding villages into an ‘urban sprawl’.
But facing a major shortfall in identified land for housing over the next five years, council officers told the development control committee it had little grounds to reject the application.
Eastergate Parish Council member for Fontwell Richard New said: “It must be clear to everyone that once greenfield space has been built on it can never be replaced and will, therefore, be lost to future generations forever.”
The parish objected to the development as it conflicted with its neighbourhood plan - the development document detailing residents’ wishes for their area.
They had sought legal advice, which suggested Arun should give more weight to the plan than it had done in its report to the committee.
But officers maintained their stance, arguing the current suspension of the district’s local plan, on top of it being unable to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, would make it difficult to fight a future appeal.
Cabinet member for planning and infrastructure Ricky Bower said: “I have to say it would be my expectation that if we were to refuse this and were to go to appeal we would likely lose an appeal, based upon comments from the planning inspector in terms of the local plan at the present time.
“I think we have basically no option but to approve this.”
Councillor John Charles spoke against the plans, arguing councillors should take heed of the parish’s plan. Arundel and Walberton councillor Norman Dingemans, speaking from the public gallery, also objected.
More than 180 written objections had been lodged against the application.
Comments in objection often drew claps from the gallery, which appeared to irritate chairman Stephen Haymes. At one point, he remarked: “We can do without that.”
In response to suggestions from Mr Charles that the committee should follow the plan as it is ‘what local people want’, Mr Haymes replied: “In that case we would end up with no houses in the district.”
Eastergate resident Ian Truin had earlier reminded councillors that the parish’s neighbourhood plan exceeded the minimum number of houses against the local plan target.
Representatives of Dandara told the committee the scheme would deliver 30 per cent affordable housing, a £2million contribution to a future A29 bypass and 3.68 hectares of public open space.
The site would also provide a new home for Fontwell business GTR - a growing firm unable to find suitable new premises.
Rachel Allwood, planning director at Dandara, said: “We are delighted that members have granted consent for our proposals, which represent a sensible step towards meeting the district’s housing need. Our scheme will deliver much-needed new homes and community facilities, as well as making a significant contribution towards local infrastructure.”
The application was approved, with just two councillors against and one abstaining.
The permission is subject to a legal agreement being signed, detailing financial contributions to be made by the developer for things like school provision and public facilities.
Officers were asked to re-explore the possibility of allocating more funds to local villages, with the funding currently going to areas away from the immediate vicinity.