A judge has resolved a dispute between two district councils and the South Downs National Park Authority by quashing parts of a joint core strategy.
Jay J, in the High Court, quashed parts of the joint core strategy of Lewes District Council and the park authority because of their effect on neighbouring Wealden District Council.
His judgment explained that Wealden had brought the case because of the status of the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a 2,729 hectares area within Wealden of lowland heath vulnerable to nitrogen dioxide pollution from motor vehicles.
The judge said: “The principal point raised by this application…is whether [Lewes] and [the park authority] acted unlawfully in concluding, on advice, that the joint core strategy would not likely have a significant effect on the SAC in combination with the Wealden Core Strategy.”
He added: “The essential contention made is that if relevant data and findings are properly amalgamated, as they should be, the effects of increased traffic flows near the SAC would not have been ignored at the first screening or scoping stage of the process.”
The judge ruled that Wealden was out-of-time to challenge Lewes's adoption of the joint core strategy, but not the park authority’s adoption of it. He said development plan documents were flawed because of a Habitats Regulations Assessment that relied on “advice from Natural England that was plainly incorrect”.
Jay J ordered that the secretary of state for communities and local government - whose inspector had found the disputed core strategy sound - and the park authority should each pay 50% of Wealden’s costs, while Wealden should pay Lewes’ costs. All applications for permission to appeal were refused.
Wealden has since the judgment revised its planned housing numbers such that after taking into account of the latest nitrogen deposition monitoring in Ashdown Forest the total number of home to be built by the end of 2028 will be 11,456 instead of the 14,101 originally proposed.
Ann Newton, cabinet member for planning and development, said: “The majority of housing will be distributed away from Ashdown Forest to the south of the district. “
New housing in the north of Wealden would be sited away from main roads that skirt the SAC. Wealden said three years of monitoring showed the amount of nitrogen deposition from motor vehicles in the forest already exceeded levels that can cause ecological damage to the heathland.