Roger Arthur: Next HDC ruling group needs to be more robust

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Indiscriminate development was again on the agenda last week, at Planning and Council Meetings, plus a CPRE Hustings event and it is probably worth recapping on how we got to where we are.

In 2011 the Coalition promised (under Localism), to abolish “Labour’s Regional Strategies, putting councillors back in charge, accountable to local people via the ballot box” but instead it put Developers in the driving seat.

That saw a big rise in speculative planning applications and a doubling of green field development, without much increase in the number of houses built. Not exactly a success you might say - particularly as infrastructure was overloaded in the process.

Of course, emerging Local Plans (including Neighbourhood Plans) were supposed to prevent inappropriate Planning Applications. Indeed at Tuesday’s Planning Meeting (on Smock Alley) we argued that those Plans should have material weight, even though the NP is not yet complete.

But by Wednesday’s council meeting the story had changed, when a number of councillors asked for a delay to allow the Plan to be completed properly. The advice then was that even a three week delay in completion of HDC’s Plan is unacceptable, although it had taken years to get the Plan to this stage!

At that meeting, a number of councillors, including myself, asked for the methodology, data and calculations, driving the changes. We wanted to understand the rationale behind the change in housing targets, the link with employment and other factors.

The Planning Minister had advised that the housing delivery rate target (then 650pa) should be adjusted for market data, before and after the downturn.

So I again asked for the new calculations, with market adjustment.

We asked how the Inspector had arrived at his raised target, how it will impact on schools, NHS and traffic - and how the Affordable Housing need would be met, when the unattainable housing target is not achieved.

I also asked again how the infrastructure funding gap is likely to be closed, eg i) by raising S106/CIL contributions, ii) by reducing the % of Affordable Houses (AH) or iii) by building more houses.

Sadly the information was not forthcoming and we were asked to vote without it, rather than have to delay the Plan by three weeks.

So the public will now be invited to participate (through consultation) in the process, but without full supporting information.

As a result, it now looks likely that the next council will be left with an even more unrealistic target (around 750pa) and it will not be long before HD falls once again behind it. That is because HDC cannot make developers build and it is why we have seen around 7,000 houses with planning approval (ie land banked), which are not being built.

We must hope that the next HDC ruling group will be more robust in challenging the Planning inspector (as some councils have been) to better protect the District against speculative development on our green fields and to meet the aspirations of communities. If elected, I shall certainly continue to do that.

Roger Arthur is UKIP’s Horsham parliamentary candidate and district councillor for Chanctonbury.