Boris Johnson says no to building on greenfields - but what does that mean for West Sussex?

Boris Johnson spoke out against greenfield development and ‘not just jamming’ homes in the South East, but what will this actually mean for West Sussex?

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 4:30 pm
Boris Johson addressing the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Previous government planning reforms contained hugely inflated housing targets which would have seen the county having to find extra sites for tens of thousands of homes.

Even though the ‘mutant algorithm’ was ditched last year, West Sussex’s district and borough councils still face the prospect of much higher housing targets in the future.

District councils in Chichester and Horsham are in the middle of local plan reviews, while Arun has recently decided to put its work on hold due to the current uncertainty.

The recent replacement of Robert Jenrick with Michael Gove as Secretary of State has been seen by many as a possible indicator of a shift in government policy towards housebuilding.

And in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last week, the Prime Minister said that looking at a map of the country ‘you can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country’.

Mr Johnson added: “Not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”

However his comments have left some with a number of questions about the government’s future direction.

‘No mention of standard method’

Roger Smith, a trustee at the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Sussex branch, said: “Housing targets are determined by the standard method, and the resulting targets for councils across Sussex, where there appears to be a dearth of developable brownfield sites, are huge and unprecedented.

“Mr Johnson made no mention in his speeches of the ‘standard method’, which does not allow for environmental constraints, and to date no indication has been given of an intent to abandon the method.

“Nor did he acknowledge or show any awareness of the unfairness and iniquities of the present planning system under which councils are blamed and punished by his government when developers fail to build-out existing planning permissions and developers not meeting local-plan targets for affordable homes is permitted.

“Whether the Government will abandon the so-called ‘reforms’, which if enacted would create a ‘zonal’ system under which permission on sites earmarked for development would be given automatically with little or no public scrutiny or consultation, remains to be seen.”

Call to translate words into action

West Sussex’s MPs were asked how confident they were that Mr Johnson’s comments would reduce housebuilding on our countryside.

Jeremy Quin, Horsham MP, said: “I had intense discussions last year with ministerial colleagues on the proposed ‘housing algorithm’ which would have led to a substantial increase in house building required locally. I was delighted when these proposals were dropped in favour of a greater focus on building in existing urban areas.

“Even since then a focus has continued on how we can best provide the overall increase in homes we need as a country but reduce the demands for greenfield development, especially in areas under pressure across the South East.

“I look forward to seeing how the forthcoming housing bill will address these pressures. In the meantime I am delighted that the key role of Levelling Up is being recognised in the Department responsible. Levelling-up has huge benefits for us locally ensuring we have a more balanced economy and that not only the benefits but the pressures of economic growth are spread more broadly.”

Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley felt the words were ‘encouraging’ but needed to be translated into action, especially in the minds of planning inspectors determining appeals, so councils could resist ‘opportunistic’ applications.

He described how greenfields were needed along the county’s coastal strip to separate settlements from each other, adding: “They need to be protected and the Prime Minister’s words need to be turned into effective actions.”

Crawley MP Henry Smith added: “I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister refer to a need to focus on redeveloping homes on brownfield sites first in his conference speech, this is clearly is aim and I support that, not only to protect green field environments but also regenerate our towns.”

Andrew Griffith, MP for Arundel and South Downs, added: “I am a long standing campaigner against overdevelopment in West Sussex. I have met with Michael Gove since his appointment and I welcome the increased focus being given to development taking place on brownfield land.”

Mid Sussex MP Mims Davies added: “The Prime Minister in his conference speech acknowledged the housing conundrum, particularly the challenge in the South East, in regard to housing demands and the confines we have. Mid Sussex has a truly unique challenge due to the ANOB, South Downs National Park and the impact of other areas struggling to fulfil their own needs, so a regeneration where possible and brownfield focus is greatly welcomed.

“This must go hand in hand with planning for local jobs, the commercial space and infrastructure facilities required such as doctors surgeries and community spaces too. Growing villages and towns in sustainable ways, seeing any houses being built in the most sustainable and efficient manner is most welcome and much wanted by constituents. The Northern Arc development is a significant planned site and the council here has always looked to do its best to maintain Mid Sussex’s special nature but also meet the housing asks of a growing and attractive area to live.

“Bolnore, is a great example of how to get this right. There are no easy choices or answers and so I have written to the DLUHC Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, once again about the importance of delivering the redevelopment of Burgess Hill town centre and the current Levelling Up bid on behalf of MSDC, which will also deliver more new homes within the town.

“It’s vital the legislation is there for Councils to continue to undertake their role in growing communities positively and that any new housing works for each area and getting on the housing ladder is a real possibility for local people.”

Councils respond to PM’s comments

District and borough councils were also asked if the PM’s comments would lead to any changes in how they approached applications for housing on greenfield land.

A spokesman for Crawley Borough Council said: “We’ll wait to receive any formal changes to national planning policy from the government before making any changes to our approach to planning for housing within Crawley.”

And a spokesman for Chichester District Council added: “We work within the Government’s current planning rules in relation to use of brownfield land. Many people may not be aware that the council prepares, maintains and publishes a brownfield land register, which identifies brownfield (previously developed) land appropriate for residential development. This helps us to maximise and prioritise the use of this type of land for residential development, before we consider Greenfield sites. This is in line with national policy and also helps to provide certainty for developers and communities to encourage investment in local areas.

“Throughout the local plan review process, landowners have been able to submit potential brownfield sites to this register for consideration. The most recent register, and national criteria applied to include sites on the register, can be found online. This register is being constantly updated and we can accept new sites at any time — these can be put forward by an agent or landowner by visiting: https://www.chichester.gov.uk/brownfieldlandregister.”

Neil Parkin, leader of Adur District Council, said he hoped the comments would lead to the government ‘reinforcing’ the protection that their local plan gives to such greenfield land.

And Robert Salisbury, Mid Sussex District Council’s cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. This was last amended in July 2021 and the Prime Minister’s speech indicates that the planning system may be revisited soon.

“While it is appreciated that some residents don’t like seeing green fields being lost to development, the reality is there aren’t sufficient brownfield sites in areas like Mid Sussex to meet housing needs.

“We will be looking carefully at how our District Plan will be effected by future ministerial statements. In the meantime, the council will continue to determine planning applications in accordance with the District Plan (2018 – 2031).”