Arun’s Local Plan, which will see 20,000 new homes built up until 2031, was approved for public consultation at a fiery full council meeting last night.
Tensions were running high at Arun Civic Centre as councillors convened to approve modifications to the local plan which would move it one step closer to fruition.
The modifications were approved, with 42 councillors voting for them, four voting against and four abstaining.
Conservative councillors said the modified plan needed to be voted through to make sure Arun was in control of its house building future, rather than developers.
The plan, a legally-binding document which outline’s Arun District Council’s vision for house building and infrastructure in the district, is currently suspended because the government called on the authority to explore the potential to meet higher annual targets.
Councillor David Edwards, Felpham East ward, said all the ‘hard work’ by councillors and officers in gathering evidence for the plan would be ‘undone’ if it was not put in place.
“I will be honest. I’m still not very happy about that but we are where we are. We must have a local plan; the alternatives are too awful to contemplate. Without the local plan, these large developments will still happen, but the chances are they will be a whole lot worse, and we will not have any control whatsoever.”
But the Liberal Democrats strongly opposed the modifications and attempted to remove 3,700 houses from the plan, saying the house building numbers per year were too high.
A motion by the Liberal Democrats to remove Bersted, Pagham North and Pagham South from the strategic sites in the plan was shot down in a vote, with the Conservatives claiming it was political posturing ahead of the West Sussex County Council elections.
But councillor Francis Oppler, Orchard Ward, said his party wanted the amendment because they ‘take seriously the views of local people’.
He said: “I have said many, many times before Bognor Regis over the last 30 or 40 years has taken the lion’s share of residential developments.
“It is the infighting and delaying of the Conservative group that has led us to where we are now. We have to take responsibility for that.”
Had the amendment been approved, it would have meant going back to the drawing board and reassessing housing numbers.
In response to Conservative councillor’s claims this would waste taxpayers’ money, councillor Dan Purchese, Beach Ward, said the council had ‘a terrible track record for wasting taxpayers’ money on a number of things’.
After the Lib Dem amendment was quashed, councillor Mrs Barbara Oakley, Middleton on Sea Ward, said: “I now know how the dustman feels when he follows the Lord Mayor’s show.
“I am reminded of something I was once told about liberalism: ‘A liberal is a man whose mind is open at both ends’.”
Now the modified local plan has been approved, it will go to public consultation, which will begin in April and run for six weeks.
Following the final vote, Ricky Bower, cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, said the decision ‘is significant and a real step closer to getting the Local Plan agreed’.
He had come under fire earlier in the meeting from a member of the public, who described him as ‘the cabinet member for avoiding public questions’, prompting chairman of the council Stephen Haymes to say the comment was ‘really out of order’.
After the meeting, Mr Bower said the contentious 1,000 homes per year figure was ‘sustainable’ following in-depth studies and appraisals.
“We acknowledge that this is a sensitive subject for all Arun residents but we cannot get away from the fact that houses need to be built.”