West Sussex County Council is preparing its response to the government’s proposed overhaul of the planning system – and it has some strong reservations.

Local authorities have been invited to comment on the changes, which would see an extra 300,000 homes built nationwide each year.

In West Sussex, the figure would be an extra 2,234 homes – and it’s this that has caused the most concern among county councillors.

At a meeting of the full council on Friday, members discussed a motion tabled by Pete Bradbury (Con, Cuckfield & Lucastes) in which he spoke about building on flood plains, the loss of agricultural land and the danger to key environmental sites such as Pagham Harbour and Chichester Harbour.

He also pointed out the pressures that would be placed on an already lacking infrastructure, with problems such as congested roads and a water supply that had recently run short in some areas.

Mr Bradbury said the council was not against a reform of the planning system but did, however, think the government needed to focus building on brownfield sites further north.

Concerns were also raised that developers would only have to pay affordable housing contributions on builds larger than 40-50 homes.

With affordable rented housing needed in rural areas, this was described as ‘catastrophic for their sustainability’. 

Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) said the White Paper ‘could have been the vanguard to a new era in planning’.

Instead, she feared it would bring ‘the worst of all worlds’, leaving ‘Chichester, Sussex and the South East drowning in houses’.

Mrs Goldsmith said: “The most worrying part of the White Paper is the allocation of houses which continues to be based on an old economic theory of ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ – this works with oranges where there is usually ample supply but not where land is limited such as in England.”

Calling on Sussex MPs to make the concerns clear to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick, she added: “This is centralising planning like we have never seen before, as it strips the locality of having a meaningful say in the nature and distribution of housing.

“Government should be radical – it should trust the people and give greater powers by localising planning and strengthening Neighbourhood Plans-not emasculating them.”

Labour leader Michael Jones called the White Paper ‘a developers’ charter’ while Dr James Walsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: “It’s a crazy system that’s loaded against the views of local people and public participation.”

Another major concern centred around the size and number of homes developers would be allowed to cram into each area.

Mrs Goldsmith echoed the words of the Royal Institute of British Architects – ‘There is every chance this could lead to the next generation of slum housing’.

She added that, without ‘teeth’, West Sussex would ‘continue to be served with the off-the-shelf designs of little boxes that we see across the country: it is what the big housing developers choose to give us as they build for profit’.

The council will liaise with MPs and the district and borough councils before submitting its response to the consultation.