Land at Church Road – The Story So Far
This document has been produced by Steep Parish Council and has been reviewed by a number of residents. We are grateful to all who have contributed to its development. Any feedback about factual errors is welcome.
THE DISTANT HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
In 1866, as part of the Enclosures Act, the field in the centre of Steep was granted to the vicar and local trustees “to provide allotments for the labouring poor”. In 1927 the land was transferred to Steep Parish Council. It was used for allotments until around 1986 when it fell into disuse.
In 1920, the Badley family intended that the Village Hall site (next to the
allotment field) should be established as the Steep War Memorial Village Club (SWMVC) in memory of the men from the village who fell in the First World War. This was enacted as a sale of land by Bedales School, and the associated documentation included specific reference to the erection of a village War Memorial. The objectives of the Club are to provide “…a place of physical and mental recreation and for educational purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of the parish of Steep…”
Image courtesy of Tony Lupton
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND THE PARISH PLAN
During the 1990s and 2000s the Parish Council and local residents looked at various ways of using the field and the Village Hall land to benefit parishioners. A number of projects including a green space in the centre of the village; an improved Village Hall, a community centre and shop; and ways of providing affordable housing were considered. Apart from remodelling the Village Hall, none of these ideas came to fruition.
In 2010, working with a housing association, the Parish Council put forward a scheme for affordable housing, allotments and open space on the field. This was defeated in a referendum by a narrow majority, reflecting the range of views in the parish.
In 2012, after a huge effort by a group drawn from across the village and questionnaires to every home, the Parish Plan (link) was published. This identified a number of key priorities, including a modest development of affordable homes somewhere in the village and a better centre around the Village Hall.
In 2015, a housing association presented a scheme to build a small development of affordable and market houses on Forge Field at the end of Ridge Common Lane. The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) rejected this scheme as inappropriate because of its impact on the landscape.
The Parish Council then set up a working group looking for other sites for a similar development. The group looked at twenty sites and the SDNPA was asked to do an initial landscape assessment on the shortlist. They rejected all as unsuitable, with the exception of the Church Road site.
STEEP IN NEED
After the 2010 referendum, the Parish Council recognised that their responsibility to the community was potentially in conflict with the terms of the original trust (“allotments for the labouring poor”). An independent body of trustees was recruited who worked with the Charity Commission to agree a new scheme with new objectives. This was set up as a registered charity in October 2015 and became a charitable company in March 2020. Ownership of the allotment field and two other small sites was transferred to Steep in Need in March 2016.
Steep in Need is an entirely separate organisation from the Parish Council. Its objectives, as approved by the Charity Commission, were changed to “…the prevention and relief of poverty for residents of Steep and neighbouring parishes….”. All money raised from the sale of its land goes directly to fund these objectives. Definitive information on Steep in Need is available on their website.
STEEP AND THE SDNP LOCAL PLAN
In 2006 and 2014, the allotment field was described in the East Hampshire District Council Local Plan as ‘informal open space/ (village green)’.
In 2014 the SDNPA began work on its first Local Plan for the whole park (available here). This includes provision for approximately 4,750 new homes in the park by 2033 (Policy SD26). The Authority carried out a Sites and Settlements Assessment looking at the Settlement Policy Boundary (SPB) for every village. Alongside this, a Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) called for landowners and councils to submit sites for assessment for new housing. Based on the Parish Plan objectives for affordable housing and a better centre for Steep, and the SDNPA’s rejection of all other sites, Steep in Need and SWMVC submitted the former allotment field and part of the Village Hall land. The Parish Council included the Village Hall land to make sure that any development plan took a view of the whole site and made it possible to create better centre around the Village Hall.
In 2018, the Park Authority asked all Parish Councils to comment on proposed changes to their settlement boundaries. In Steep, the overall size of the boundary was reduced, and the Church Road land was included inside it. Steep Parish Council supported these changes as a way of furthering the objectives of the Parish Plan.
In July 2019, the SDNPA adopted the final version of their Local Plan, including a number of key strategies which inform all planning decisions within the park. Many villages had ‘’Allocation Sites’’ (meaning sites identified as suitable for development and given a proposed number of houses). There is a presumption that such sites will be developed if a planning application is assessed as suitable by the SDNPA.
The Church Road land was allocated 8-12 houses (see SDNPA local plan, p.253-4, policy SD89). After representations by residents, the final plan set an expectation that approximately 20% of the total area should be open public space accessible from the Village Hall and car park. The Planning Inspector rejected an additional challenge by residents to the SDNPA process.
THE VILLAGE HALL LAND & THE CHARITY COMMISSION
Since the allocation site included part of the Village Hall land, once Steep in Need had selected a preferred developer, the Parish Council (as sole trustee of SWVMC) considered selling that piece of land to the developer. Such a sale would have been followed by the transfer of a significantly larger portion of land back to SWVMC at the end of the development. A number of residents objected to this, however, and made representations to the Charity Commission. In January 2020, the Commission reminded the Council that it could not sell the land without formal permission and without appropriate consultation.
Reflecting on the situation and on representations from residents, the Parish Council accepted that a sale of the land did not fully respect the original intentions of the gift. It decided to rule out either the selling the land or building on it, but to continue working with Steep in Need and the developer to protect the interests of the Village Hall.
THE PARISH COUNCIL: PRIVATE HOUSING
The Parish Council has no particular view on private housing in the village. It accepts however that it is necessary on the Church Road site to enable the scheme to move forward and achieve the other benefits identified in the Parish Plan.
As a result of this complicated journey, we currently have:
- A registered charity (Steep in Need) with independent trustees who own the former allotment field and are responsible for their own charitable objectives
- A South Downs National Park Local Plan allocating the Church Road site for a development for eight – twelve homes
- A settlement boundary defined by the SDNPA which does not allow for alternative sites
- A developer, Wilson Designer Homes Ltd, with a signed agreement with Steep in Need to develop their land, who is committed to substantial consultation with the community
- Steep in Need working with our local Eames Almshouses to provide the affordable homes within the development, with the help of Steep in Need funds
- The Village Hall charity (SWMVC) which will not sell or build on its own land as part of this development
THE WAY FORWARD
In early March 2022, the Council established a Working Group made up of Councillors and residents. This group will focus on ensuring effective consultation on the development and better communication between Steep in Need, the developer and the village. We aim to achieve the best possible outcome for the whole village, reflecting the 2012 Parish Plan priorities of a modest development of affordable housing and a better centre for the village.