A councillor is at the forefront of a potential judicial review challenge to Mid Sussex District Council's approval of a planning document authorising the construction of 1704 homes.
The local authority faces a claim from the councillor, supported by an action group named South of Folders Lane Action Group (SOFLAG), who argues that Mid Sussex failed to properly present an environmental report and the responses to it for consideration before voting on the plan.
Although a plan for the local authority's house building strategy - The Mid Sussex District Plan 2014-2031 - was adopted in 2018, the Planning Inspectorate required the council to identify more sites to meet its five-year housing land supply requirements.
In response, the council produced its Site Allocations Development Plan Document (DPD), which addressed the inspectorate's concerns and recommended 22 housing sites to accommodate 1,704 new homes and seven employment sites, as well as a Science and Technology Park.
The document underwent two public consultations before being submitted to the inspectorate for final assessment and a public examination in December 2020.
Last month, the plan was accepted as "sound" by the inspectorate. The council reported that the inspectorate found the document compliant with all legal requirements, was positively prepared, was justified, effective and consistent with national planning policy.
However, Cllr Robert Eggleston – who is himself a councillor at Mid Sussex – argues that the council adopted the DPD without taking account of the environmental report prepared under the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004, or the opinions expressed in response to that report.
In his pre-action protocol letter, Cllr Eggleston wrote: "The report to the council on 29 June 2022 did not append a copy of environmental report or consultation responses received in connection with the July 2020 version of the report or the addendum report dated November 2021, nor did it contain a summary of its contents or the consultation responses which had been received.
"The report did not list the environmental report and consultation responses expressly as 'background papers'. The report simply explained that the 'full evidence base, examination library and examination documents' were available via a link on p.23 of the Council Report."
At the time of the meeting, the link did not go through to a webpage including the final environmental report and consultation responses, Cllr Eggleston noted. He argues that this is in breach of section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972, which provides that background papers are required to be listed if they "disclose any facts or matters on which, in the opinion of the proper officer, the report or an important part of the report is based, and [...] have, in his opinion, been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report".
The final environmental report "did not even appear to be publicly available prior to the meeting and only appeared on the Council's website," Cllr Eggleston added in his letter.
Cllr Eggleston said the most appropriate remedy would be an order quashing the decision of the council to adopt the DPD and an order remitting the DPD to Full Council to reconsider the question of adoption, with the necessary information before members.
He also called for the court to grant an interim order suspending the operation of the DPD until it has been lawfully adopted.
Mid Sussex District Council has been approached for a comment.