Investigation held into complex appeal saga

Delays in producing vital reports for a Henfield housing application were alleged last week to have been the main reason for a costly public inquiry.

A meeting of Horsham District Counil’s own scrutiny and overview committee had been called to look into a complex situation, relating to plans to build up to 102 homes on farmland at the rear of Manor Close, Henfield,

But the council’s chief executive, Tom Crowley, told members that the non-determination of the initial application, which led to the appeal, was not in any way linked to staffing issues in the council’s development management department.

Developers had appealed on grounds of non-determination, after the application had not been dealt with within the statutory three-month period.

They then submitted a second identical application, saying that if it was approved they would remove the appeal.

Brian O’ Connell (Con, Henfield) said: “I take on board what you said, but is it not true that the reason the Henfield plans did not come to committee was we were waiting on reports from our own internal consultants?”

Mr Crowley said: “The question is whether or not there needs to be a review because of problems from development management. I do not believe the Henfield case was symptomatic of any such problems.”

Sheila Matthews (Ind, Henfield) said she agreed with the chief executive and thought the officers had done as much as they could.

The original application was received by the council in October 2011, but after the determination period expired in January 20120, developers lodged an appeal in March.

Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) said committee members were given conflicting advice from officers and were told in May they could not debate the merits of the case.

In July they were told if they rejected the second application it would prejudice the appeal on the first one, and then told the appeal would only be considered on the merits of the first application.

“As a lawyer I’m used to trying to understand complicated things. But this fails me.”

Mr O’ Connell said the council appeared to have its land supply figures muddled up - something which came out in the appeal hearing.

“There’s something not right here,” he said.

Mr Crowley promised to write a full report, using transcripts from meetings over the past few months, and would come back with conclusions and any recommendations to the scrutiny committee.

He suggested developers only went down the appeals route when they saw the writing on the wall, and wanted to take it out of the hands of the council.

What was vital in these cases was an improvement within the council on planning issues.

Leonard Crosbie (LDem Trafalgar), council chairman, said: “Looking at it in cold blood, there is every reason to consider that there’s a problem, allowing this to drift for a period of six months.”

Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate) added: “Morale there is actually very,very low.”

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough) believed failure to determine the application was root cause of all the problems and the planning committee should have had something put in front of it.

He added: “To me that is a failure of the system down the track and is leaving us open to attack on every front.”