Campaigners slam council survey figures

HOUSING campaign groups have accused the council of distorting a report on its recent Residents’ Survey 2011 to show greater support for housing development in the Horsham area than figures actually indicate.

Keep Southwater Green says it is an example of facts and figures being distorted to fit the council’s own agenda, whilst the Save Our Sussex Alliance has branded the move a crude attempt to manipulate the general public.

The allegations arise from the survey’s questions and results about housing.

The report, produced by Abacus Insight, states: “Around four in ten residents consider that there is not enough housing in their area for local people to buy or rent,” while “between two and three in ten think there is sufficient and that development should be limited.”

However, the figures show that 34 per cent agreed that there was enough housing available for local people, with 33 per cent disagreeing.

Furthermore, this is the only time the analysis deviates from exact percentages in the main body of the report.

Instead, the wording used - ‘between two and three’ and ‘around four in ten’ - implies percentages of about 25 per cent and 40 per cent, weighting the results in favour of the perception that there is not enough housing and that therefore development is necessary.

Ian Thwaites of Keep Southwater Green, a campaign group fighting a 500-home greenfield development bid, said: “Horsham District Council are once again distorting facts and figures to fit their own agenda.

“Is this a deliberate distortion of the truth? Do they think we are so very stupid?”

And David Mowling, chairman of Save Our Sussex Alliance, said: “This would appear to be yet another crude attempt by HDC of misinterpreting the results of a minor survey in order to mislead and manipulate the general public of Horsham district in believing that the district needs vast amounts of new housing.”

He added that SOSA was not against housing development per se, but that HDC’s current affordable housing policy was not working and he wanted future plans to be more thorough, giving precedence to brownfield over greenfield sites.

Dr Thwaites added: “Sadly we see far too much of this sort of distortion from this council’s officers. There is an urgent need for Horsham district councillors to realise that they need to bring a much more critical eye to bear on what they are told by their own officers.

“The catalogue of errors that we have seen in the last few years, typified by the fiasco of the Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre, which reflect so badly on the council as a whole, have to a very great degree originated in erroneous reports and dubious conclusions presented to the councillors by their officers who have a predetermined agenda which they feel they have a right to pursue.

“The present example may be minor and transparently silly; very many of the others are much more important and have had a profound and damaging influence upon the reputation of the Council.

Inside the survey, one of the residents against further development in the Horsham area said: “I am concerned about the relentless and never ending desire by large builders wanting to over-develop our village. As soon as one application is refused they submit another. Our councillors do not support us but the overwhelming majority do not want it.”

Of those who thought that there was a shortage of housing, 57 per cent said homes were needed for young people and 29 per cent for families.

Another respondent said: “The priority of new housing developments should be focused on the local needs not on government guidelines for the whole country.

“Affordable housing to buy in this area requires an income of £50,000 and is not affordable to most of the people who already live here. This being the case there should be more affordable-to-rent houses than to buy,”

Another commented: “The lack of social housing for locally born/long-term residents is outrageous.”

Meanwhile another response linked the planned developments with a lack of infrastructure to cope with increased traffic in places like Southwater.

This all comes as Horsham District Council is running a consultation on how much housing the district will need for the next 20 years, which runs until April 10.

Residents are fighting off possible developments, with 4,500 homes proposed north of Horsham and 500 in Southwater, with 2,000 ongoing at Broadbridge Heath (see page 5).

Last week residents launched RAGE (Residents Against Greenfield Erosion) to unify opposition against development plans for North Horsham, while Save Our Sussex Alliance met with Horsham MP Francis Maude last Thursday (see page 2).

The County Times asked this week: “Does the council stand by the statistical analysis used by the report in relation to housing provision in the district?”

This paper also enquired how much the survey and its analysis cost. What was the fee given to Abacus Insights, and why it was deemed necessary a private consultancy should carry out the survey’s analysis, as opposed to officers using spreadsheets?

We also asked if the council was pleased with the results and whether it would be acting on the report’s summary findings. If so, in what way?

On Wednesday morning, HDC released the following statement: “Horsham District Council carried out its district-wide residents’ survey last autumn to find how people feel about living in the Horsham District and their satisfaction with the council.

“Around 1,000 residents responded and the results have now been analysed. Thanks are given to everyone who commented.

“Initial feedback from the survey can be found in the most recent spring 2012 edition of the Council’s ‘Horsham District News’ magazine (pages 18 and 19), which has recently been delivered to district homes and it’s also online at www.horsham.gov.uk.

“Further and fuller council feedback and comment about the survey will be publicised in the next few weeks. This will include the proposed actions resulting from the survey and will happen once respondents who asked for feedback have been communicated with. A press briefing will also take place at this stage.”