Decision soon on latest mushroom site plans

Plans to improve Thakeham mushroom-growing operations, and build new homes on a derelict site in the village, are set to be approved.

The linked scheme will be debated at Horsham District Council’s Development Control meeting on Tuesday afternoon next week.

The plans include replacing existing growing rooms at the former Sussex mushrooms site, now operated by Monaghan Mushrooms, and provision of new facilities.

This is linked with a scheme by Abingworth Developments for 146 homes, village hall with shop and doctor’s surgery, pre-school facilities, sports pitches and play area on the derelict Abingworth site on the edge of the village.

In a lengthy report, officers have recommended approval, subject to conditions.

Sussex Mushrooms were about to be put into liquidation in July, when Monaghan Mushrooms Ltd bought their assets.

“It is understood that Monaghan Mushrooms invested an initial £1.2m to maintain production and employment on the site. They indicated at an early stage that they wished to draw up new plans for the mushroom growing operation. Since the site was operating at a loss, the previously proposed residential development on the Abingworth site would remain part of the viability argument, to help fund the new development for the Chesswood site,” said officers.

They added that the site continues to operate at a loss of £50,000 per week but new owners believe improvements to work practices and greater focus on production quality could bring it to break-even level. Significant capital investment is required to achieve consistent profitability.

Monaghan Mushrooms plans to make the investment subject to outstanding planning issues being resolved and an enabling investment of £3.75m from Abingworth Developments.

In relation to the housing and community facilities, a design and conservation adviser confirmed that, in terms of its impact upon the Thakeham Conservation Area and listed buildings closest to the site, it was not considered that any objection could be raised to the proposal on those grounds alone.

The plans had been amended to reflect a mix of vernacular materials. Welcome amendments had also been made to the village hall design.

Thakeham Parish Council has critcised the housing scheme saying: “This proposal is neither one thing nor the other in that it fails to provide the number of affordable homes required by the accepted policy.

“It provides ‘key worker’ homes for the benefit of Sussex Mushrooms, but not the community, and attempts to introduce 55+ residents in a completely unsuitable location.”

It also suggested that the support of a local business by allowing a significant housing development could ‘set a dangerous and legally unacceptable precedent’.

Speaking on behalf of Thakeham Village Action, Jean Locker has urged that the committee rejects the application.

She said that plans to build 146 new homes on the site on the outskirts of the village are unacceptable.

“Councillors voted in favour of them, in April, but before permission could be granted Sussex Mushrooms went into liquidation. Things have changed since then. The National Planning Policy Framework now insists all development must be sustainable,” she added.