East Grinstead Society

The Neighbourhood Plan (NP)

In autumn 2012 representatives of the East Grinstead Society attended two workshops on the NP organised by the Town Council. A summary of our subsequent written comments follows.

The Neighbourhood Plan in context
Under the 2011 Localism Act to be valid a Neighbourhood Plan for East Grinstead would have to be agreed by over 50% of residents and approved by a planning inspector who may note that for many years, despite no road infrastructure improvements, house building has continued apace exceeding 900 houses, adding further to already excessive traffic congestion. Whilst the current Local Plan of 2004 will eventually be replaced its general policies and its Chapter 12 planning constraints, specific to East Grinstead, are as relevant today as they were then.

Extracts from Chapter 12 of the Mid Sussex 2004 Local plan:

“Future Development at East Grinstead”

12.4 Two important constraints have affected the amount of new housing and commercial development which the town has been able to accommodate in recent years. The first constraint is environmental, reflecting the character and high visual quality of the area, and in particular the surrounding countryside.

12.5 The second major constraint relates to infrastructure and, in particular, roads. New highway provision at East Grinstead has not kept pace with the rate of earlier development and general traffic growth and the existing highway network is no longer adequate to cope with the traffic demands now being placed upon it. Unless significant improvements are made further large scale development would only exacerbate this situation and would not be appropriate. Whilst the District and County Councils are currently studying a range of roads and transport issues at East Grinstead , new road provision sufficient to cater for major new development is unlikely to be achieved in the near future. …. the existing infrastructure will continue to be a firm constraint on theamount of future development at East Grinstead ……

12.6 As a result of these environmental and highway constraints, and the current uncertainties relating to future highway and transport provision the overall strategy for the future development of East Grinstead is one of restraint. It is proposed that there are only very modest amounts of new housing or business development at East Grinstead ……. In the case of housing, five sites are allocated which together are estimated to have a capacity of up to 179 dwellings. ……”

Since 2004 new information and new constraints have emerged which should in the Society’s opinion also be reflected in the town’s NP.

New information and constraints on development at East Grinstead

An Atkins report and another by MTRU, the Town Council’s transport consultants, quantify the feasibility, road capacity and costs of improvements to the 5 main junctions along the A22. These reports show that the additional 900 houses built during the last decade have left the road system ‘at capacity’. MTRU indicate that even significant and expensive junction improvements would struggle to accommodate traffic from further houses. All the more surprising then that a further 765 new homes have been committed to by the planning authority without evidence that they could be absorbed. Since the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allows onlysustainable development we think that East Grinstead ‘s NP should provide only for a limited number of new homes expressly associated with town centre renewal.

Environmental Constraints – Habitat Regulations

Another constraint beyond those of 2004 is that proposed developments have now to be assessed against the Habitats Directive, incorporated through the UK Habitat Regulations, which protectAshdown Forest . Work undertaken for Mid Sussex and Wealden Councils seems to confirm that development within 7km of Ashdown Forest should be assumed to damage protected sites unless fully mitigated. No evidence has been published to show that development would not damageAshdown Forest as a result of additional ‘atmospheric pollution’ generated by increased traffic.

The Neighbourhood Plan

Given the original 2004 Local Plan constraints, the lack since then of road improvements, and the additional constraints and information described above we can only conclude that options and resources for further housebuilding are limited. Whatever development may be possible should be concentrated on renewal within the town itself to improve its quality and attractiveness to business investors and visitors alike.

The Plan should therefore set out proposals for central area regeneration/renewal as a means of encouraging business growth, increasing visitor numbers and improving the town’s appearance generally, in particular:

  • Town Centre – Regeneration of the Queens Walk and King Street areas to improve the town’s economic potential. It should comprise a mix of retail outlets chosen to complement, not damage High Street business. Include also better car parking, private dwellings, affordable homes and accommodation for older people.
  • Railway Approach – Renewal essential if the expected economic boost from the Bluebell Line extension is to be fully realised. We see a ‘boulevard avenue’ appearance, with a mix of quality buildings comprising office, retail, residential including affordable homes.

Funding

In the absence of significant CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) funding from housing developments other sources would need to be found. Town centre regeneration might attract business investment, some CIL from new homes in the town centre and District funds for car park renewal and expansion. Since what is proposed is aimed at urban regeneration to improve the town’s economy there may be other funding sources including from bodies associated with Gatwick Diamond enterprise area development.

Public/Green Spaces

The town’s green spaces contribute to its character as a good place to live. The NP should ensure they are protected from being built on. Chapter 2 – Vision and Objectives of the draft District Plan does not protect specific green spaces. The NPs status under the Localism Act means that explicit reference to spaces that residents wish to protect should be made in the NP. Obvious ones are King George’s Field, the Turner’s Hill road recreation ground, Brooklands Road Park but there are many others.