The council’s criteria for picking strategic sites in its new draft housing plan has confused both campaigners and developers.
During last week’s meeting where Horsham District Council’s draft housing policy was approved for public consultation, even some councillors questioned the selection process.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), cabinet member for living and working communities, said during the meeting they had taken an exhaustive look at every possible housing site in the district.
However Roger Smith, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Sussex, said: “We are very concerned that no explanation is given of why the ‘proposed’ strategic sites have been chosen for future development. One could be forgiven for believing that the pressure from developers has determined selection.”
Strategic sites that have been discussed in the past include Mayfield Market Town’s scheme for a 10,000-home new settlement between Henfield and Sayers Common, and 2,500 to 3,500 homes West of Ifield.
Richard Thomas, director of Welbeck Land, which is leading a consortium of developers to promote the West of Ifield scheme, said he had written to the council asking why the strategic site was excluded from its plan.
Mr Thomas said: “It remains our position that West of Ifield is necessary in order for Horsham to assist its close neighbour, Crawley, in meeting its housing need which physically cannot be accommodated within its borough boundaries.”
The new draft housing plan does not rule out a new market town, as it says: “Solutions such as a step change to a smaller settlement or a new market town may be need to be explored to ensure that the intrinsic rural character of the area is preserved and that a bold comprehensive approach to future housing and economic growth is investigated.”
Lee Newlyn, a director of Mayfield Market Towns, said: “Horsham’s strategy of ‘add ons’ will open the floodgates to further development on existing towns and villages.
“The district should consider how it can deliver new homes in a way that also provides enough facilities and services to meet the needs of residents.
“We believe a new market town would achieve this and that residents should be given this choice. Mayfields will be making representations on the plan and will urge Horsham council to allow local residents to have the opportunity to comment on and support a new market town as a serious alternative for growth.”
Ian Thwaites, of Keep Southwater Green, hailed the plan as an honest attempt to engage all the major parties, but admitted that unless the Coalition Government reversed its planning policy they would be seeing more housing imposed on them than anyone would find sensible.
He said that Mrs Vickers had promised if Southwater accepted 500 homes she would enshrine in planning policy that no further development would take place in the village for the next 20 years.
Dr Thwaites added: “Our response to this proposal is that we think it should be seriously considered by the community, but only if a number of conditions are met.
“First we think that 500 houses, on top of the more than 200 that have been or are already being built in the last year or so, remains simply too many for the village to accommodate without damage to its character and infrastructure.”
He continued: “We hope for the sake of both our community in Southwater, and also the wider district which will benefit, that they can and do meet these conditions and we can move forward together.”
Asked if it would continue to lobby for up to 2,750 homes West of Southwater, a spokesperson for Berkeley Homes said: “We are pleased that the council is proposing to allocate about 500 homes at Southwater and recognises the benefits that Berkeley’s plans will bring to the village.
“Not only is there a substantial need for more homes in this part of the district, it is important that they are planned and delivered in a way that enhances the area’s infrastructure and provide benefits for local people.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the council and the local community in planning for the future of the village.”
In Billingshurst, David Mowling, leader of Save Billingshurst Action Group, remained disappointed that 500 homes were earmarked for the village considering the amount of housebuilding it had taken over recent years.
He added: “HDC have taken too long to prepare the strategic plan and it seems that they have rushed this to avoid special measures.
“HDC must take the blame for their past mistakes and they must not give in to pressure from the developers in choosing their sites.”
Meanwhile in the south of the district Simon Andrews, of Hands off Henfield, said the new housing strategy would appear to offer protection to rural villages like Henfield, but it would not be formally adopted until the spring of 2015.
He explained: “Our concern is that until that policy is adopted, developers will continue to exploit the loophole by continually submitting speculative, opportunistic and unwanted mass development planning applications to Horsham District Council.
“Within our own village, we have a number of newly built dwellings that just aren’t selling. This maybe due to the fact that the demand locally is just not there or they are the wrong type of housing stock, built for profit rather than what’s actually needed.”
Howard Brunt, of Stop Storrington Sprawl, which fought off 102 homes north of Melton Drive last month, said: “HDC have produced a strong draft strategic plan. We take the view that it is a well considered document reflecting local needs whilst trying to address perceived requirements for housing.
“It is a comprehensive paper endeavouring to contend with complex issues and is clearly a massive piece of work generated by experts in the field.
“Stop Storrington Sprawl support HDC and parish councillors in trying to achieve the best outcome for our community as to where and how development proceeds.
“If we are to have building then homes must be the right kind of homes, in the right places and in keeping with their surroundings.”