We are facing a serious problem with our ability to process planning applications in Crawley following Natural England’s demand that they should demonstrate ‘water neutrality’ with immediate effect. There is no clarity as to how residents and businesses should do that and there was no notice before implementing this policy. We have taken legal advice which confirms that we must refuse applications that are not water neutral. This means that, in effect, many of our applications must be refused whether it be for a new house extension or a development for new housing. Similar applies to business applications that use water like offices or warehousing. We have several major applications being processed at the moment and are aware of more coming. (The full details of the Governments Natural England position statement are included below).
But thankfully our MP, Henry Smith, has seen the press release and taken action. Sadly he did not call to offer his help which would be very useful as the solution to this problem has to come from the government and its agencies Natural England and the Department for Levelling up Housing and communities but instead he chose to interpret the press release as support for building 10,000 homes West of Ifield! I have written to him to point out the error that he has made (Email reproduced below for information).
Our concerns are for Crawley residents who are being stopped from getting their extensions built and for businesses who are not able to get permission for their developments in Crawley and Manor Royal at a time when we have an acute shortage of jobs for our people.
I am calling on our MP’s support to help overcome this problem, his decision to play politics with the issue is an active obstacle to helping us give residents the ability to decide what to do with their houses again.
Cllr Peter Smith
Cabinet member for Planning and Economic Development
Here is my email to Henry Smith correcting the incorrect information in his email – sent on 6th October 2021
I have received copies of your email that you have sent to various residents following our Crawley Borough Council press release regarding Natural England’s position statement on water resources, even though you didn’t have the courtesy to let me have a copy. I note that you have included a portion of my quote from which you appear to have concluded that ‘… Crawley Borough Council are to argue against the Natural England water resources statement….’. This is surprising as the press release clearly states that ‘Resolving this issue will ultimately require the water industry to deliver an alternative long term water supply solution, working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and the government. We intend to work alongside affected neighbouring authorities to pursue this matter urgently at the highest levels of government, with Natural England and the water authorities.’ Nowhere in the statement does it say that Crawley Borough Council are to argue against the Natural England water resources statement as you state, incorrectly, in your email. In fact, we have taken exactly the opposite position by calling on the Government and it’s agencies Natural England and the Environment agency to resolve this problem.
I have checked with our officers at Crawley Borough Council and they have informed me that you did not make contact to clarify any uncertainty that you might have, albeit perhaps inadvertently, seen in our press release. I can only leave it to your email recipients to draw their own conclusions as to why you would write an email with such seriously incorrect statements in it.
I would also remind you, as we discussed at our last quarterly meeting with our CBC Chief Executive, that CBC have no jurisdiction whatsoever over the site of the Government’s Homes England proposals for West of Ifield as we are responsible for applications within the CBC Borough boundaries only; whereas the majority of the Homes England West of Ifield proposals are in Horsham District Council’s area.
I would also like to confirm that, as explained in our press release, CBC are in practice currently unable to progress the majority of our planning applications especially including applications for housing developments and resident developments within our Borough due to the inability of applicants to demonstrate ‘water neutrality’. Any comments made by me apply only to applications within our Borough, and nowhere else, where we are seeking to urgently find a solution for our residents and businesses.
While I don’t expect an apology from you I ask that you email all of your correspondents correcting the incorrect action that you have attributed to Crawley Borough Council in your email.
Finally, I would confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that I have personally opposed the Government agency Homes England’s proposals for West of Ifield from the outset and, in fact, have taken a leading role in the opposition to them.
Cllr Peter Smith, Ifield and Ifield West
Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development
m: 07703 502430
Here is Henry Smith’s letter to residents – the ones I have seen were emailed on 4th October 2021
From: “SMITH, Henry” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 4 October 2021 at 14:23:16 BST
Subject: West of Ifield
I am writing further to our previous correspondence regarding Homes England proposals for up to 10,000 housing units to the west of Ifield.
As you may be aware, following a recent position statement from Natural England, planning permission applications in the majority of Crawley and north West Sussex will now have to demonstrate that they do not increase pressure on water resources, showing that they are ‘water neutral’.
I note with interest comments made by Cllr Peter Smith, Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning & Economic Development in response, who has said that the local authority “will do our best to support our planning permission applicants in the meantime and will work as hard as possible to encourage and facilitate a solution as quickly as possible”.
Personally I believe this Natural England pronouncement is a significant opportunity to halt the misguided and environmentally damaging west of Ifield proposals but am concerned that if Crawley Borough Council are to argue against the Natural England water resources statement then this will encourage Homes England to continue pursuing their plans.
Henry Smith MP
Here is the Crawley Borough Council press release published on 1st October 2021
Link to press release
|Applications for planning permission required to demonstrate water neutrality|
|Applications for planning permission in the majority of Crawley will now have to demonstrate to Crawley Borough Council as the Local Planning Authority that they do not increase pressure on water resources – in other words show that they are “water neutral”.
This follows a position statement from Natural England, the government’s advisors on the environment, which advocates that until an agreed water neutrality strategy is in place and secured, decisions on planning applications within Southern Water’s Sussex North Water Supply Zone – where these would have an increased water demand implication – should be deferred. Most of Crawley borough is situated within the Sussex North supply zone except Maidenbower, Gatwick Airport and land to the north of Manor Royal.
Water in the Sussex North area includes supplies sourced from abstraction points that drain water from designated nature conservation and protection sites in the Arun Valley. Natural England is concerned that this abstraction may be causing adverse impacts on the integrity of these internationally important sites.
Developers / planning applicants who can demonstrate water neutrality such as by having significant water efficiency measures built into their development and by providing offsetting measures to reduce water consumption from existing development, and who are able to enter into legal obligations to secure these measures, would be able to proceed, subject to the planning process. The onus is on developers and planning applicants to demonstrate that they can deliver water neutrality for their proposals. For applications in these circumstances which are not able to do this, the Local Planning Authority [the council] when determining a decision, would unfortunately have no choice but to refuse them, as a matter of law, in light of the Natural England Statement.
The Local Planning Authority [the council] has written urgently to agents of affected applicants advising them of Natural England’s position and advising them that, for the time being, all applications where a positive decision / recommendation was / is to be made on an application will have to be delayed if they are within the Southern Water supply zone, until the matter of water neutrality can be addressed.
Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Crawley Borough Council, said: “This unexpected announcement from Natural England is having an immediate impact on our ability to progress planning applications. Resolving this issue will ultimately require the water industry to deliver an alternative long term water supply solution, working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and the government. We intend to work alongside affected neighbouring authorities to pursue this matter urgently at the highest levels of government, with Natural England and with the water authorities. We will do our best to support our planning permission applicants in the meantime and will work as hard as possible to encourage and facilitate a solution as quickly as possible.”