National Park will decide fate of Fittleworth sandpit proposals

A PLAN for a new sandpit near Fittleworth, which has stirred up huge controversy across five parishes, has been called in by the South Downs National Park Authority.

The move means the park authority (NPA) will make the decision whether the Barlavington Estate’s application to extract 1.5m tonnes of sand, over a 20-year period, from the virgin site at Horncroft Common should be granted.

Since April 1, the NPA has had overall responsibility for minerals development, but it could have asked West Sussex County Council, under an agency agreement, to continue to deal with the Horncroft issue.

Now, however, it has published a ‘direction’ saying the proposal shall not be determined by the county.

Jim Redwood, the NPA’s head of planning, said the Barlavington Estate’s proposal was for major development and therefore the park authority wished to assess the impact on the ‘natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of the park.

Interested parties will be informed when the NPA planning committee will be discussing the application, and will be given details of the committee procedures. Meanwhile, all correspondence on the issue continues to be sent to the county council.

The planning bid, first submitted more than a year ago, has been fiercely contested from day one by a growing band of vociferous local people opposed to what they claim would be desecration of the countryside and a huge increase in the volume of heavy lorry traffic.

In January, protesters were joined by their MP, Nick Herbert, at a ‘stop the quarry’ rally.

In February, the national park authority gave an indication of the struggle the Barlavington Estate now faces to gets its plan through.

Responding to a county council consultation, planning chief Jim Redwood recommended the NPA should raise an objection.

He advised significant development comprising new mineral extraction in a national park was contrary to the principles of government policy.

He said there was currently an ambiguity over the future level of sand and gravel supply from within the park, and that needed to be resolved before a major new site was considered.

The scheme also provides for a new temporary access to the site, a temporary office and sand-processing plant, a water extraction borehole, earthworks, and finally landscaping and restoration once the sand extraction had been completed.