Ashurst Wood, West Sussex – Site assessment

Deep in the High Weald area of natural beauty, lies the rural village of Ashurst Wood.

With a population of 1800+ people, made up of a mixture of older residents and young families with children attending the local primary school, the parish council decided it was time to create a neighbourhood plan to determine how many new houses could be built and where.

Identifying a site

The challenge for the village of Ashurst Wood was determining the site of the new housing without causing controversy in the community about the decision of the site in what is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

In order to get the local community onboard, the group were active in community consultation over a period of months, approaching the question of a possible site from several angles:

  1. The group wrote to all the landowners included in the District Council’s SHLAA (the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, which assesses the amount of land that could be made available for housing development), and those who had previously promoted sites, to see if they had available development sites.
  2. Local knowledge was also used to encourage any other landowners to come forward.
  3. A consultation event was held in November 2012 to present to the community five sites which had been put forward at that point.
  4. At the event the group made it clear that it did not have a preferred option, but was seeking community views. It had prepared a questionnaire to help do this, which got 100 responses.
  5. Further invitations to put forward sites were made at the event and in Parish Council Newsletters.

Two sites were identified from this consultation process.

The site assessment

In the summer of 2014, the group received support from Planning Aid England under the SCNP programme. Aware that they needed strong evidence for housing need, consultants URS conducted a review of Ashurst Wood’s evidence and advised that further evidence was needed.

In February 2014, the group repeated the community consultation site assessment event, looking at the 14 sites that were put forward in a general resident’s survey in the spring of 2013.

Following the event group members visited each site and completed a site assessment form (prepared by URS). It uses parts of the SHLAA process and looks at the following criteria:

  • General information about the site (location, current use, planning history etc)
  • Whether the site is suitable (accessibility, proximity to AONB, available services etc)
  • Whether the site is available
  • What the potential is of the site for development?

The next steps

Taking the information gained from the site assessment forms and the community consultations, the group now plan to decide on which sites will make the final list to be taken back to the community for further consultation.

A grant has been awarded under the SCNP programme which will allow them to enlist a planning consultant to assist with further site allocations and policy work.

Top tips from the process

  1. Keep everyone informed as much as possible so they understand what you’re doing, why and how they can be involved
  2. Be realistic, it can take longer than you think
  3. Try to find a local volunteer with project management skills who can help you keep your plan on track
  4. Build and maintain a good relationship with your LPA so you understand what help they can provide and can keep up to date with what’s happening (e.g. with the Local Plan)
  5. If volunteers are unable to commit to a steering group or ongoing work, use them for one-off tasks such as delivering questionnaires
  6. Take whatever help you can get, such as events, workshops or training sessions
  7. Read other plans and examiners’ reports.

Further resources

Many thanks to Jenny Forbes, Chair, Ashurst Wood NP steering group, for her help with this case study.