Key questions on housing answered by cabinet member

Claire Vickers, pictured last year

Claire Vickers, pictured last year

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Have your say

Last week Claire Vickers answered our questions on the council's preferred housing strategy, and in next week's paper campaign group Residents Against Greenfield Erosion answer the very same questions.

Liberty Property Trust, the developer behind plans for 2,500 homes and a new business park, has also answered some questions in this Thursday's paper (September 26).

Claire Vickers, Horsham District Council's cabinet member for living and working communities, Q&A:

Q) Are you happy with how the consultation has gone so far and whether you feel you have been able to bring residents onside to work constructively on the proposals HDC has published?

Claire: No, I am not happy! There has been as much comment on the misinformation that has been circulated, as there has been on the actual facts in the Preferred Strategy. I welcome this opportunity to put the record straight and am doing all I can to inform the community and have a constructive debate.

I am listening carefully to everyone’s concerns.

Q) Councillors have stated that no to proposals is not an option and they need to suggest alternative sites. People have suggested that it is up to the council and its planners to argue a reasoned case for proposals. What are your thoughts on this?

Claire: It is clear Government policy that saying ‘NO’ to development is not an option available to us.

The Preferred Strategy is exactly that! It is not an options document, which was considered in 2009. This is the Council’s Preferred Strategy!

It has been formulated after considering a wide range of alternatives and options which the officers have researched and which councillors have closely scrutinised in a number of documents, meetings and site visits over many months.

We are asking people to look at the documents and comment on the proposals that are available to read, both on line and in local libraries. This includes, understanding the priorities that we must observe and commenting on any options that were considered earlier and rejected.

Q) What impact would possible developments have on the future of secondary school provision in the area? Although it is a county council matter many have expressed fears that catchment areas could be radically altered if a new secondary school is provided North of Horsham.

Claire: There are no planned changes to school catchments. Children living in the town will continue to attend our excellent existing schools.

As part of the proposals for North Horsham a new secondary school will be built to meet the needs of the new development. As the school grows places will able to be offered to a wider catchment area, which will increase parental choice.

The County Council is the Education Authority and it will decide when the new school needs to be provided.

Q) Do you think the case for development North of Horsham has been handicapped by a whole list of reasons which ruled out the site in 2009 from the council itself? These included the A264 being the boundary of the town, protecting Graylands Copse, floodplain constraints, and with no natural boundaries to the north fears it could lead to further development north along Rusper Road. Have these reasons disappeared?

Claire: The site was not ruled out in 2009.

Land at North Horsham has been under consideration for over five years with a suggested considerably higher housing figure than the current Preferred Strategy document. The original plans included an A&E hospital on the site but this was not supported by local GPs. If they change their view then the developers remain open to making such provision and the Council would certainly fully support that.

In planning terms you can ‘never say never’. If such a statement was made when the A264 bypass was built then it was an unwise one. Towns grow and always have done. Councils as Local Planning Authorities have to plan and manage that growth.

The northern boundary of the proposed development on land at North Horsham has natural landscape boundaries and no built development will be allowed in the floodplain. Southern Water has confirmed that it can provide and treat the water and all necessary improvements will be paid for by the developer.

Q) This time last year HDC produced a scoring system for all the considered strategic sites. Why has this been removed from the website, and could you shed light on the fact that Southwater scored higher than North Horsham, whose high score was mainly down to the inclusion of a new A&E hospital?

Claire: The scoring system was a simple table that was produced for councillors when they were originally discussing the strategic sites and before the huge emphasis on economic development was known. Since that time more detailed analysis has been undertaken of the alternative sites through the Sustainability Appraisal. Everyone can see the appraisal in libraries across the District and at www.horsham.gov.uk.

The original plans included an A&E hospital on the site but this was not supported by local GPs. If they change their view then the developers remain open to making such provision and the Council would certainly fully support that.

Gatwick Diamond is the key economic hub in this area and it is important that the required economic development is as close and as well connected to this area as possible. Southwater is further away from the strategic road network A23/M23 and the Gatwick Diamond and cannot provide the highly visible and accessible land that is needed.

Q) When will a traffic impact assessment be finished for the proposed North of Horsham development, and why was this not done before the draft preferred strategy was published for consultation?

Claire: A traffic impact assessment was undertaken by the developers when they were originally looking at a significantly larger scheme in this area using methodology agreed with West Sussex County Council and the Highways Agency. Further work is now being done on the current proposal.

Q) What would you say to Peter Burgess’ assertion that 2,500 houses North of Horsham is the developer’s requirement, as the council only needs an additional 1,000 homes?

Claire: Let me be clear, we cannot guarantee that the housing number we are proposing will be agreed by an inspector! However, the Council believes it has conformed to Government’s requirements and set out how it can meet its “objectively assessed housing needs”.

We should, however, be mindful that Planning Inspectors have turned down plans in areas such in as Waverley District, saying the housing numbers are not high enough.

I believe that Councillor Burgess is confused. If you do the sums using the figures set out in the Preferred Strategy i.e. a target of 575 homes pa for 20 years = 11,500.

This is made up of:

6,900 homes already completed, permitted or agreed for release;

600 applications likely to be approved before adoption;

c500 Southwater;

c500 Billingshurst (*475 was approved in August),

500 through neighbourhood planning; and

2,500 on land North of Horsham.

Q) How many permissions and square foot of business space have been granted and not yet built in the Horsham area? Residents have suggested that Broadlands has permission for sizeable business space but has not yet built it. How can the council be sure a new business park will not be an unused ‘white elephant’?

Claire: The Council’s monitoring report shows additional employment floorspace (Use Classes B1, B2 & B8) of over 5,000 square metres was completed in 2011/12. At March 2012, over 25,000 square metres was reported as committed along with allocations for employment on the Wealden & Warnham Brickworks site and the strategic sites West of Horsham and West of Bewbush.

Whilst I agree that Broadlands Business Campus is set in attractive landscaped semi-wooded parkland and is home to a number of businesses with some floorspace available to let, the proposed new business park in our Preferred Strategy will have the benefit of direct access from the A264 with a railway station, close to an international airport.

This is exactly the sort of location that is wanted by larger companies for their corporate headquarters.

A number of sites, including Broadlands, have been suggested as alternatives but this does not mean they are automatically suitable or well placed. An obvious analogy would have been to suggest to a major national retailer proposing to locate a large new store in the town centre that they should move to existing empty shops in the town rather than offering them the possibility of a new site. If we had not done this they would simply have gone elsewhere and we would have lost them. The same logic applies when you are trying to attract up-market companies to the District.

The developers will be using around £30m of their own funds up front to build the infrastructure and business floorspace and they are committing to do this before building most of the houses. They are responsible for a similar highly successful business park in Kent and I am sure they would not invest here unless they were completely confident of its success.

Q) Do you regret giving assurances to Ian Thwaites and Keep Southwater Green to limit development in the village to 500 homes?

Claire: NO such assurance was given!

It is not in my gift to be able to personally protect any land from future development. As elsewhere, in planning terms you can ‘never say never’. See the minutes of Southwater Parish Council public meeting on 31st July 2013 where this was formally recorded.

Q) What were your and your leader’s reasons for not attending the public meeting on Monday to discuss proposals for North of Horsham?

Claire: Neither the Leader of the Council, nor I were invited to the Parish Council meeting held on Monday 9th September but I have invited the Chairman and Vice Chairman of both North Horsham Parish Council and Rusper Parish Council to a meet with me to listen to their concerns and discuss their proposals.

The meeting was well attended by local Members and I have discussed issues raised at that meeting with many of them.

Additional Questions Arising from Consultation Responses to the Proposed Development on Land North of Horsham and Response from Cabinet Member for Living and Working Communities, Councillor Claire Vickers

Q) Why is a brand new business park being considered in the North Horsham development when there are many empty office and commercial spaces in the Horsham District?

Claire: The proposed new business park in our Preferred Strategy will have the benefit of direct access from the A264 with a railway station and be close to an international airport.

This is exactly the sort of location that is wanted by larger companies for their corporate headquarters.

A number of sites, including brownfield sites, have been suggested as alternatives but this does not mean they are automatically suitable or well placed. An obvious analogy would have been to suggest to a major national retailer proposing to locate a large new store in the town centre that they should move to existing empty shops in the town rather than offering them the possibility of a new site. If we had not done this they would simply have gone elsewhere and we would have lost them. The same logic applies when you are trying to attract up-market companies to the District.

The developers will be using around £30m of their own funds up front to build the infrastructure and business floorspace and they are committing to do this before building most of the houses. They are responsible for a similar highly successful business park in Kent and I am sure they would not invest here unless they were completely confident of its success.

Q) Why Greenfield development - why not build on brownfield sites first?

Claire: We have a ‘brownfield first‘ policy in the current and future strategy. We have delivered 83% of development on brownfield sites over the past 10 years. We will always try to keep greenfield development to a minimum but 1) it has to be suitable for the intended purpose and 2)there isn’t enough of it!

Q) Horsham will lose its unique identity as a market town and will joining up with Crawley

Claire: Horsham’s current ‘ market town’ character very much comes from the town centre. This will not be changed and the town will retain its unique identity. There were very large numbers of additional people in the town at the beginning of September for the Big Nibble weekend. Roads and parking all coped brilliantly and the town was buzzing. This influx of people helps to keep our town and above all, our shops vibrant.

The proposed development is to the north of Horsham town not towards Crawley. The distance between the nearest proposed house in the new development to Crawley centre and the existing closest house to Crawley centre is virtually the same. The “green” distance between the two towns will continue to be at least 2 miles and the Crawsham fear is simply not realised.

Q) Why do we need economic growth and to provide more employment?

Claire: We need economic growth because 1) the government needs the economy to grow, enabling the country to enjoy a continuing high standard of living 2) business rates revenues will increasingly be needed to fund council services and 3) While we have high employment levels, statistics show that jobs are lower paid than the average in the South East and so attracting higher quality businesses that pay higher salaries is of great importance to our residents and our children who will be entering the job market.

Q) Will Littlehaven Station close or be downgraded?

Claire: On the contrary, Network Rail has just announced plans for a £4.5m investment in Littlehaven!

The proposed parkway station on land north of Horsham will be an additional station funded by the developer (and not Network Rail) for the use of passengers who can walk or drive and park at the station.

Q) How will the existing facilities cope with a sudden population explosion?

Claire: There won’t be a sudden or instant change and infrastructure and facilities to support the development will be built as and when they are needed. I would love these to include a new hospital but it is certainly planned to include a new medical centre on site which will include faciities like those at Pulborough and Southwater. Shops, leisure and other providers will I am sure welcome the opportunity of a larger shopping clientele and the larger the population, the greater the chance of enhanced facilities that can be used by both the new and existing population to support it.

Q) Won’t the town be congested with traffic with more cars on the roads?

Claire: I refer to my comments on events like the Big Nibble and the same can be said for other town centre events. If we need more car parks or to look at transport links then let’s look at that. I suggest that industrial or commercial development of some of the ‘in town’ sites that have been proposed as alternatives, would actually be more likely to increase general congestion on existing roads.

Q) Current property values in North Horsham will drop

I really do not understand this point. Property values are high in this area and are continuing to rise. There is no reason why this should change. Indeed, providing a high quality business park and new facilities for that community can do nothing but enhance property values, I would have thought.

Q) How will people cross the A264 and what about unsociable activity in the underpass?

Claire: No underpasses are proposed! This idea is all invention including the extreme ideas of criminal behaviour that might take place in one! What has been talked about is to provide safe crossing points including a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

Currently, I rather suspect that most people just drive by this land and relatively few people actually cross the A264 or walk the area that is proposed for this development. We have talked to the developers about creating a central parkland/conservation area, which would open up more of the countryside for everyone.

Q) Why consult during the school summer holidays?

Claire: The consultation period has been extended from the usual 6 week consultation to an eight week period. This timeframe spans from August through to October.

Please keep comments coming.