Villagers say plans for a Sussex new town just a few miles from Henfield would devastate their thriving community.
Mayfield Market Towns wants to build a 10,000 home town on 1200 acres of countryside just over a mile outside the village, with a new High Street in the nearby hamlet of Wineham.
“Everyone is in utter disbelief,” says Tony Jackson, who is Chairman of the Henfield Community Partnership. “People live here because they want to live in a nice, rural village community. It just doesn’t make sense, there’s no station near here and the roads are very minor. It would completely destroy our community. The thought of building that number of houses so close, without any proper infrastructure, strikes most people as madness.
“Many people walk to the village to do their local shopping. If you walk down the High Street it is very rare that someone doesn’t say ‘good morning’. Henfield is a thriving village with lots of shops and services – it’s inevitable that many of these would not survive because people would go to the new shopping centre.”
A recent car parking survey in the village showed that Henfield businesses serve a large rural area including 17 villages and hamlets, which don’t have shops of their own. Last year it was a regional winner in Action for Market Towns’ ‘Towns Alive Award’ for its community website.
Katherine Faber who runs Stokes, which is a long established newsagents and toy shop, says the village High Street is a life-line for many people of all ages.
“Lots of our customers I know come shopping at Stokes for someone else who may be ill or elderly. Mums and grandparents look after children so parents can go to work,” she says. “The separation and anonymity you find in larger towns over bigger areas makes these sorts of acts of kindness less easy and somehow less forthcoming.
“I would oppose any development that moved Henfield away from being the village that it is. The High Street is the heart of the village commercially and socially, and if it is threatened by another high street close by then we could all lose something very special”.
Chairman of Henfield Parish Council, Ray Osgood says Mayfield’s directors approached them last year seeking local support.
“It was almost implied that the development was an act of altruism, with the company doing a huge favour for local people for no personal gain for those involved,” he says. “The development of a new market town between Henfield and Hurstpierpoint would have a huge detrimental effect on the commercial centre of both communities.
“Developers seem to regard any undesignated area of countryside as having no intrinsic natural beauty or worth just because it isn’t Green Belt or designated as an area of natural beauty. One only has to go into the hills above Devils Dyke and look towards the North Downs to see the whole area of agricultural land of the highest amenity and of stunning beauty as well.”
Henfield Parish Council is in the process of preparing its Neighbourhood Plan, looking at how local people would like to see the village evolve over the next 20 years. Kenneth McIntosh, who is a member of the Local Economy Focus Group, says a new town nearby would completely destabilise the area.
“Our villages are well advanced in developing our Neighbourhood Plans to support our local planning authorities and these do not include wholesale unsustainable housing which is not properly thought out,” he says. “I cannot imagine at present what Mayfield contributes to Localism, which is what people have placed their trust in and expressed their aspirations for the future.
“Our existing retail businesses are small independent traders… a wholesale unnecessary housing development can de-stabilise this existing sustainable and growing local economy. To me this is a risk not worth taking. A new unwanted town could suck dry investment in our local economy.”