New market town is ‘entirely unacceptable’ say Mid Sussex and South Downs MPs

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Plans for a new town of up to 10,000 houses near Sayers Common would be ‘entirely unacceptable’, two local MPs said this week in a joint letter.

Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert - the MPs for Mid Sussex and Arundel and the South Downs - have written to Lee Newlyn, a director of Mayfield Market Towns.

In the strongly worded correspondence, the two MPs were responding to a request for a meeting. They concluded: “You have asked us for a meeting.

“We would happy to meet your directors at the House of Commons to explain why your approach and proposal are entirely unacceptable.”

The MPs said they object both to the proposal itself and to the manner in which the company was pursuing this agenda.

The letter read: “You are well aware that Mid Sussex District Council has made clear that it has no desire for, or need of, a new town as you propose. Its proposed submission district plan, published on 7 May, sets a housing requirement of 10,600 homes between 2011 and 2031. Outside the strategic sites identified, of which yours is not one, it states that ‘the homes to be provided elsewhere in the District will come forward through Neighbourhood Plans.’

“Your strategy is clearly to persuade the planning inspector to overturn the District Plan, including by encouraging other councils to invoke the duty to co-operate. Your own letter to Mid Sussex District Council of 4 March warns them that the ‘writing is on the wall’ and that their plan may be rejected. We consider it to be entirely unacceptable for you to pressurise local councils in this way.

“You admit in your letter to us that you will be making representations to local plan examinations ‘to explain the need for more housing.’ We should like to remind you that, under the Localism Act, the South East Plan has been scrapped and that our district councils have the right and the responsibility to determine the correct level of housing for their areas. You are not helping this process; you are setting out to undermine it.

“We are unclear whether any of your directors has a local connection with West Sussex. You appear merely to have a commercial interest in developing this area. However, it is the elected local councils who speak for West Sussex communities.

“Lord Borwick, one of your directors, states in your brochure that ‘the excitement of starting a new market town is that we can listen to the people who will live nearby ....’ If you are indeed listening, you will be aware that there is very considerable opposition to your proposals in the villages of Henfield, Sayers Common and the wider Mid Sussex area, which would be ruined by this development. Merely listing the meetings which you have had is meaningless. If you ignore the views expressed then your claim to be listening is humbug.

“Your proposed new town would not be a ‘market town’, since there would be minimal local employment. It would, as the CPRE have observed, be a commuter town, since almost all of its residents would in fact travel to other areas for work. Nor can it be dressed up as a sustainable proposal. Apart from the destruction of beautiful countryside and agricultural land, the development is not on a railway line.

“Your suggestion that residents would ‘work where you live’ or be ‘leaving the car at home’ to walk, cycle or take the bus is risible.

“With 25,000 people living in the new town there would clearly there would be a huge pressure on local infrastructure. There are already serious flooding issues in the area.

“Your case is that a large planned town is a better alternative than adding houses to villages. Whether or not that is true, this is a matter for the district councils to decide. Mid Sussex has rejected the approach, and its plan explicitly calls for development which ‘reflects the distinctive towns and villages, retains their separate identity and character and prevents coalescence.’

“Horsham has yet to publish its plan.

“It is not enough to state that there is a need for more housing in the South East, as though that is sufficient an argument for a new town in the location you propose. It is commonly agreed that more housing is needed and will be built. The issue is at what level and where. We are concerned that proposals for excessive housing numbers and imposed strategic developments damage the promising new process of neighbourhood planning which is already underway.”

In response Mr Newlyn said: “We are disappointed that Mr Soames and Mr Herbert have come out so strongly against our proposals without having met with us to discuss our plans. We are of course aware that Mid Sussex District Council is only proposing 10,600 new homes in their next plan period. We believe there is some likelihood that the planning inspectorate may ask for these numbers to be increased and we know from our consultation that many people across Mid Sussex would rather see one well planned development of new homes with associated community benefits, than yet more ‘add ons’ to existing towns and villages. Such ‘add ons’ often overstretch existing services without delivering real benefits to local people.

“We have submitted our representations to the independent planning inspector who will take a view on the numbers and strategy the Mid Sussex Local Plan proposes. As the two MPs will be aware, there is massive private and affordable housing need in Mid Sussex and arguing the case for lower housing numbers does not make that need disappear.

“Lord Matthew Taylor is one of our directors as well as being chair of the National Housing Federation and on the board of an Eco Community in Cornwall. There is no conflict in his role helping us shape a new community in Sussex alongside his work reviewing Government planning guidance.

“If Mr Soames or Mr Herbert would like to know more about our plans we would welcome the chance to brief them fully. Recent research conducted by Shelter has showed that it is taking on average 18 years to for first time buyers to save for a deposit for a new homes in West Sussex and we would be interested in their views on alternative ways to resolve this growing crisis in housing provision locally.”

A group of residents have formed an action group to fight off the development Locals Against Mayfield’s Building Sprawl (LAMBS). It hopes to have its website live shortly at www.lambs.org.uk