In July 2016, Mid Sussex District Council’s Planning Committee voted overwhelmingly to refuse permission for a speculative, inappropriate housing scheme by Taylor Wimpey in Lindfield. As is usual, the developer appealed. It has now emerged that council officials have responded by withdrawing their reasons for refusal, effectively conceding the appeal.
The council had been provided with a palette of strong reasons for refusal at the July hearing, from Parish Councils, the Lindfield Preservation Society, council members and well over a hundred letters of objection from residents. The small group of officials charged with composing a formal statement of reasons for refusal chose to present only two weakly stated ones, from which the council has now retreated. Officials appear to have been intimidated by adverse decisions in two other local appeals. In at least one of these (Birchen Fields), there were clear grounds for requesting a judicial review of the appeal decision. Instead of taking this robust approach, the council has chosen submission.
Taylor Wimpey has now lodged a new planning application for effectively the same scheme. This is a (wholly predictable) manoeuvre to exploit the open goal that the council has offered them, by pushing their scheme through without opposition or the cost of an appeal. The quality of council officials’ judgement in this matter now stands exposed for what it was.
Moreover, the process that produced this situation is wholly unacceptable. The council’s retreat overturns the decision of democratically elected Planning Committee members – a serious matter. At the very least, there should have been a position paper, an open debate and a vote. None of these occurred. Instead, the decision was introduced into a Planning Committee meeting on 7 December under a standing item for “urgent business” and members were “invited to agree”. Taylor Wimpey’s scheme did not even feature as an agenda item. It will not do to excuse this chicanery as the way things are normally done. The democratic deficit speaks for itself.
There is more at issue here than over-development in Lindfield. Any community in Mid Sussex could be undercut in the same way at any time. We urge district councillors to confront and rectify this approach to decision making, which risks making their position as elected representatives appear redundant.
Gil Kennedy, Chairman, Lindfield Preservation Society. (Pho:01444 482 538)