Our downland villages face multiple development pressures, and this is epitomised in Kirdford and Wisborough Green, tranquil communities in attractive countryside on the edge of the South Downs National Park.
Celtique Energie’s proposal for exploratory drilling between the two villages has caused a great deal of local disquiet, with disruption from construction traffic one of the biggest concerns.
The company suggested that drilling would cause less than a three per cent increase in traffic movements on Kirdford Road.
Earlier this year, I urged the county council to test these figures thoroughly. The Local Highways Authority has now formally objected to the application because of concerns about traffic.
They say that drilling would actually cause up to two thirds more heavy traffic for nearly six months.
Villagers will be pleased by this intervention, but the key test will be West Sussex County Council’s decision, expected later this month, as to whether to grant planning permission for the drilling.
If the threat of (possible) fracking wasn’t enough, villagers have also faced increased noise from planes caused by a new flightpath which is being tested by Gatwick.
The six month trial will end next month, but clearly residents will want to be reassured that the flightpath will not become permanent. I have written to the chief executive of Gatwick to seek clarification on this.
The sudden nuisance from planes foreshadows a longer term concern, which is that further expansion at Gatwick could result in greater noise from flights over this part of West Sussex, as well as increasing development pressures in the county which are already a real problem.
This week I spoke in a Commons debate on planning to reiterate the importance of localism in providing new housing.
I pointed out that Kirdford’s Neighbourhood Plan, proposing 50 new houses in a village of 226 people, was overwhelmingly endorsed in a local referendum last month.
It shows that our communities are not NIMBYs and that if they are given the power they will take responsible decisions for their future.
Other MPs echoed my criticism of the Planning Inspectorate for undermining this localism.
I reiterated these messages when the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, visited Chichester District Council last week to meet district and parish councillors and hear their concerns.
As he saw for himself, West Sussex is a beautiful county, and we must protect its rural character.
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