Ray Dawe: Risks of resisting unwelcome plans for more local housing

editorial image

Last week, there was news that developers had won yet another appeal to build houses, this time at Daux Wood in Billingshurst where large numbers of mature trees will be cut down.

Meanwhile we await the outcome of recent appeals by developers in Storrington and Henfield. Wherever you live in our District it seems that housing always features prominently in local newspaper headlines.

The stories tend to be either about where your District councillors have rejected a planning application and developers have then appealed against it and won (just as we have just seen in Daux Wood), or about the Council’s District Planning Framework where the Government tells councils they must produce a strategy showing where new homes and jobs should go over the next twenty years.

It is against this background, where we constantly lose a battle against developers, that we approach our District Planning Framework. All councillors were recently invited to a meeting with one of the country’s leading barristers, an expert in housing and planning.

He was asked how we can prevent unplanned housing, react to developers and have a strategy for the future. He left no doubt that until the council agrees a new Planning Framework we remain totally vulnerable to developers winning appeals almost wherever they choose.

We are obliged to use the Government’s ‘rule book’, a document called the ‘National Policy Planning Framework’ to produce this Planning Framework. This document says we must: “proactively drive and support sustainable economic development to deliver the homes, business and industrial units, infrastructure and thriving local places that the country needs”.

So how and where do we get this economic development? Logically “business units” should be where incoming and existing firms would want to set up and grow. So such a site should have good, easy access and ideally be near a motorway, airport and if possible a railway station. That is why the evidence points towards the land immediately next to the A264 dual carriageway north of Horsham, (in plans since 2009) as the best place to do this.

Regular readers cannot fail to have seen that there have been many letters opposing this idea of development north of the A264. While I believe that there are many positive reasons for the idea, my question today is what would happen if we now responded to opposition against the Plan and councillors turned it down, since we are at the point where we have to decide on the way ahead?

Does anyone really think the developer will just go away? On the contrary, they have already told us that a planning application would be made and it’s likely to be not just for 2,500 houses but a thousand or so more and with fewer community benefits. The council could of course then try to refuse this application too, and then like all those applications I mention above, it would go to appeal. And does anyone really think we would win?

So saying “no” may sound good and be (as some people have put it) seen as “standing up against the government” but how is this a logical or constructive option when we know for certain the developer is not going to go away?

This is a very difficult situation for some of our councillors, knowing there are people locally with strong feelings against more houses. However, ultimately, it comes down to a choice for them - resist no matter what and get a worse deal for your residents, or be pragmatic and realistic and make the very best of planned development negotiating to get the best community benefits - and these could be considerable.