Chairman Ray Osgood briefed the meeting on the grounds upon which the plan had been quashed, and his reaction to these points..
The developers, Stonegate Homes Ltd and Littleworth Properties Ltd, had applied for a Judicial review just prior to the referendum on three grounds:
1. The failure to lawfully assess reasonable alternatives to the spatial strategy, especially in regard to the reasonable alternative to permit development on the western edge of Henfield.
The Henfield Neighbourhood Plan did assess alternatives to its spatial strategy but the judge ruled that it had not taken into consideration the appeal decision of the Barratt’s site in West End Lane regarding the sustainability of the local roads. What the judge did not recognise was the importance of the plan being acceptable at referendum. There were 653 letters of objection to the Barratt’s site development and the Steering Group managing the Neighbourhood Plan reasoned that, should the Neighbourhood Plan support further development in West End Lane, then many local people would possibly vote against the Plan. No material importance was given to referenda in Neighbourhood Plans by the judge.
2. The failure to consider any alternative to the Built-Up Area Boundary (BUAB)
The Steering Group amended the BUAB in preparation for the pre-submission consultation that ran from 5th December 2014 to 21st January 2015. Although the decision to uphold the Barratt’s appeal was made on 2nd June 2014 it was further challenged by Horsham District Council in the High Court. The final decision to uphold the appeal was only made on 21st January 2015 – the date the Neighbourhood Plan pre-submission consultation ended.
3. The failure of the Local Planning Authority or the Examiner to give adequate reasons as to why the Henfield Neighbourhood Plan met EU regulations.
The judge ruled that because the Henfield Neighbourhood Plan was in breach of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive Regulations on the grounds 1 and 2 above, the Local Planning Authority should not have adopted the Plan as it did not comply with EU regulations.
During the plan-making process the Henfield Neighbourhood Plan passed through all its checks and examinations satisfactorily and was commended at many stages. Henfield Parish Council must now consider whether it should produce another Neighbourhood Plan. It is obvious that the “light touch” attitude regarding evidence, once regarded as sufficient for a Neighbourhood Plan, is no no longer the case and Neighbourhood Plans now have to be approached with the same vigour as a local plan. In Henfield’s case the neighbourhood planning bar was raised after we had cleared it.
The Sandgate Nursery appeal decision that has now been delayed until 12th December 2016 may have an impact on how far back the community would have to go in the plan-making process if Henfield Parish Council decides to produce another one. The Parish Council agreed to await advice on how to proceed from Horsham District Council, Locality (advisory organisation supported by the Department of Communities & Local Government) and the National Association of Local Councils. Once these organisations have provided advice, the Parish Council will then consider how to proceed.
The meeting was attended by a reporter from West Sussex County Times, and the article can be seen by clicking here.