THE FUTURE of Arun’s local plan hangs in the balance after calls to scrap the vital document and start afresh.
A government inspector will decide whether the plan should be suspended for further investigation into the number of houses the district can accommodate, or withdrawn.
Arun District Council believes a withdrawal, sought by the plan’s critics, would leave them powerless to defend against speculative applications by developers.
Director of planning and regeneration Karl Roberts said: “(Suspension of the plan) does provide a degree of certainty for developers and residents and if the plan gets withdrawn and we are starting again, that will create a huge amount of uncertainty and won’t help to develop the housing that is required.”
The local plan sets out the district’s vision for housing and employment until 2031.
It must set the number of homes which should be built each year - a figure known as ‘objectively assessed needs’ (OAN).
Arun changed its figure from 580 homes per year to 641 last month, after new data emerged.
But following a lost planning appeal and further studies, the figure was indicated to be 758 homes per year.
Critics of the plan believe it cannot be legally sound if Arun has not fully investigated whether it can meet the latest figure.
Former Arun head of planning Paul Collins, now working as an independent consultant, said Arun’s solution of suspending the plan to work on the 641 homes figure was not viable.
He said: “Suspension is the wrong approach and will not produce a sound plan. It is like putting a sticking plaster over a car crash.
“It is in everybody’s interest to have a sound, plan-led system in this district. My interest is to try to achieve that but sticking plaster solutions is not, in my view, going to achieve that.”
Dr Ashley Bowes, representing the Villages Action Group, said the council had not justified why it could not meet the 758 figure and work planned during the suspension only sought to investigate the 641 homes per year adopted last month.
Mr Roberts argued suspension would allow officers to do the ‘challenging but achievable’ work to get the plan in shape.
“If we withdraw who is to say that when we move forward that the OAN hasn’t changed again to something different,” he said.
Robin Shepherd, of Barton Willmore, proposed an alternative solution, which would see the council work towards the 758 figure, suspending the plan for a longer period.
He said: “There is much at stake in infrastructure, major proposals brought forward by neighbourhood plans which could be at risk if the plan is completely withdrawn, which puts not just the council in a difficult position but communities, developers and landowners all in a bit of a free for all.
“There is another way which still maintains a plan-led system.”
Mr Roberts said this would be his personal preference over withdrawal but was unsure what councillors would favour.
Mr Foster aims to write to Arun by July 30, in time for the next local plan sub-committee meeting.