A LEADING conservation group is worried the beauty of the South Downs will be spoilt after plans were announced to build 250 houses in the National Park every year.

Vic Ient, policy officer of Friends of the South Downs, said there was no reason for South Downs planners to set themselves a housing target.

“They didn’t need to have such a high target,” said Mr Ient, from Pulborough.

“What’s the point of making a National Park? Not to build housing.”

The South Downs National Park Authority, which controls the beauty spot, announced plans to build 250 homes annually for the next 14 years.

But Mr Ient said huge pressure for housing around the boundaries of the park meant developers could hold sway over the authority.

He said: “Eight hundred homes have been planned for Toad’s Hole Valley on the outskirts of Brighton, among many other huge housing projects just outside the park.

“There is huge pressure and we need to make sure disused land like Shoreham Cement Works is used for housing, not beautiful natural land. We need to expand housing in villages so more residents can afford to live in the country, but we shouldn’t build massive new towns like Mayfield.”

But Mr Ient praised plans to ensure half of new homes are affordable provided they are in developments with more than 11 houses.

He said: “As long as they are genuinely affordable, this will be fantastic for residents.

“But just taking 20 per cent off market value is not affordable. That is a joke.”

South Downs planning director Tim Slaney said the park plan was “first and foremost concerned” about the park’s beauty.

He said the authority would “strongly resist” development in open countryside.

He said: “The plan is not ‘target driven’ but rather ensures that housing provision is assessed against any impact on the landscape.

“We also have a duty to foster the social and economic wellbeing of our communities.

“Part of this is to allow some modest housing growth.

“The plan sets a housing provision of 250 homes per year, dispersed across the towns and villages of the national park.

“This approach has been widely supported by the public and stakeholders across the park and indeed many allocations arise from community-driven neighbourhood plans.

“The affordable housing policies are to provide much-needed housing to meet local need. Much of it will be required to be rented tenure to meet local need.”