Conservation campaigners have hit out at the council for refusing to take part of a nature reserve off a list of housing development sites.
The Friends of Whitehawk Hill successfully fought Brighton and Hove City Council’s plans to build hundreds of low cost homes on scrubland at the top of the hill earlier this year.
Now, they are pushing for the area to be taken out of a key planning document – the draft City Plan Part Two – in which it is earmarked as somewhere homes can be built in the future.
They say that their requests have been turned down flat, and planners have even refused to meet them.
But the council says no objections to the site being included were lodged during two previous consultations, and to include their objections now would be unfair to all those who did respond.
Friends of Whitehawk Hill chair Richard Bickers said: “The City Plan is a Brighton and Hove Council plan, and the council should take ownership of the decisions about these sites – not wash their hands of it and leave it to the Planning inspectorate!”
The City Plan, a planning blueprint, takes several years to draw up and the first part was approved following several rounds of consultation in 2016.
In 2013, a planning inspector told the council to find more urban fringe sites for housing so it could meet its targets for building new homes.
Part of Whitehawk Hill was one of several sites included in the second part of the plan, which has also been consulted on twice, in 2016 and 2018.
A council spokesperson said: “When drawing up local development plans, all councils have to follow strict national regulations setting out the processes which are established in law.
“Our officers have followed these rules and explained the process to members of the Friends of Whitehawk Hill.
“The City Plan Part Two (which builds upon the already adopted strategic City Plan Part One) sets out site allocations and policies to help shape future new development for the city.
“Since officers started working on the plan in 2016, two rounds of public consultation have taken place – at the ‘Issues and Options’ stage in 2016 and then on the Draft Plan for 10 weeks from June – September 2018.
“All ‘duly made’ representations received during the prescribed consultation timelines have been looked at by council officers.
A small number of urban fringe sites were proposed for some housing development during the consultation on the Draft City Plan Part Two in 2018 and objections were received relating to a number of sites from local residents opposing development and from potential developers seeking more development. There were no objections made to the proposals for some residential development at the site which falls within part of ‘Whitehawk Hill’.
Once officers became aware that FOWH is opposed to any development at Whitehawk Hill, they have advised the group on the best way to make their views known.
“As the plan is now at a very late stage of preparation, council officers are unable to consider the evidence submitted by FOWH as this would be extremely unfair to all other respondents who made valid representations in 2018 and have not been given any further opportunity to put in additional evidence or views.
“A final round of consultation is scheduled to take place next year and council officers have advised the group to use this opportunity to formally submit their evidence for formal consideration before the Plan is submitted for examination by an independent planning inspector.”
The adopted City Plan Part One only plans to meet 44% of the city’s need for more housing forecast to 2030.
The 2014 Urban Fringe Assessment indicated some potential for housing development but only on parts of 39 urban fringe sites which amounted to just 7.5% of the city’s urban fringe.
The City Plan Part One plan did not specifically allocate any urban fringe sites but it did identify that there was potential for around 1,000 homes and that sites should be allocated through the preparation of City Plan Part Two.
The council says proposed site allocation at Whitehawk Hill affects only a very small proportion of the local nature reserve and it is considered that any significant adverse impacts can be appropriately mitigated.
The pre-submission version of the City Plan Part Two is currently scheduled to be considered at the council’s 16 January Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee and then at January Council on 30 January.
Editor’s note: An earlier version ot this story repeated campaigners’ claims that deputy chair of the tourism, equalities and culture committee Councillor Amanda Grimshaw had asked for the site to be removed. Councillor Grimshaw has asked us to make it clear this is not the case.