Communities across Midhurst and Petworth area on red alert over future housing plans

Land next to Rotherlea Care Home in Petworth which awaits development
Land next to Rotherlea Care Home in Petworth which awaits development

IT’S probably the start of a rocky road for communities across the Midhurst and Petworth area.

The first inklings of things to come in the development department for the South Downs National Park (SDNPA) over the next decade and a half have emerged, with a string of maps and a lot of red and green markings.

They represent all the possible housing development sites in every town and village, the length of the park from Easebourne to Winchester, which could be considered for building.

And with much of the Midhurst and Petworth area inside the park boundary, communities will be on red alert.

Director of planning at the national park Tim Slaney is at pains to stress that the strategic housing land availability assessment – commonly known as the SHLAA – contains every site available, but not all will be turned into housing estates.

Some have already been ruled out – hence the red crossings – while some are possibilities.

It is only when the long-overdue draft local plan is published by the national park later this year that a picture of the future of the park will begin to take shape.

It will contain its preferred options – not only for housing development – but for commercial, economic and recreational development as well.

That is when the real fun will start.

There will be sites in towns and villagers that will horrify their inhabitants.

There will be sites that have not been included which villagers feel are no-brainers.

There will be hungry developers circling for a chance to build in this most sought-after area.

And throughout all the discussions, the national park will have the last word with its 
‘get out’ clause .

It says the park’s first purpose is to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty wildlife and cultural heritage of the area’.

Its second purpose is to ‘promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park by the public’.

It also has a duty to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities in the park.

But if ever there is a conflict, the ‘special landscape’ wins and ‘the first purpose of the national park is given priority.

A figure for the actual number of new houses which need to be built across the entire area of the national park in the next 15 years has not yet been forthcoming.

But according to the park’s figures, 1,254 homes have not yet been built from existing planning permissions. The total number which could be built from all the sites identified in the SHLAA is 2,344. The number which could be built on windfall sites is 612.

We await the draft plan in the autumn to find out.

Mr Slaney is leading the preparation work for the local plan, the first ever for the new authority and tying together an area which stretches from Easebourne to Winchester.

He said: “Properly managed development is necessary so we need good planning in place to care for landscapes, views and night skies, support the local economy, promote recreation; enable affordable local housing and make sure that our green spaces are properly valued and cared for.

“To get this right we need to work with and understand the needs of local communities and other groups and the solid evidence that will stand up to full public examination.”

He said the sites identified as having potential for housing in the SHLAA would be looked at in more detail during the preparation of the first draft of the local plan.

“The ones that are then included as draft allocations will be subject to consultation when the draft local plan is published this autumn.”