A decision on the billion pound North Horsham housing development has been delayed with the application referred to all councillors.
Liberty Property Trust’s scheme for 2,750 homes and a business park north of the A264, was discussed by Horsham District Council’s Planning Committee North today, but a number of members raised concerns about highway improvements to the A264, and viability studies of the proposals used to justify lower levels of affordable housing.
After more than three hours of debate, Toni Bradnum (Con, Nuthurst) proposed to refer the application to Full Council and this was agreed by the majority of the committee.
The North Horsham strategic site is included in the council’s Horsham District Planning Framework, which was adopted in November 2015.
The outline planning application includes two primary schools, site and contributions for a secondary school, community centre, shops, open space, cemetery, land safeguarded for a parkway railway station, and improvements to the A264, Rusper Road and Langhurstwood Road.
However questions have been raised about viability studies of the scheme, which are used to justify the level of affordable housing and contributions to community facilities and infrastructure.
The application is set to deliver just half of the council’s affordable housing target of 35 per cent, with just 18 per cent affordable rented and shared ownership units.
Instead 30 per cent of ‘housing for local needs’ includes 12 per cent which is a mix of discount market, private rented, and custom/self-build units.
Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West), who argued for the application to be referred to Full Council, said: “It’s vital the details are the very best we can achieve for our whole district and I do not believe this does.”
He argued that the council could ‘do better’ on the level of affordable housing provided, and suggested the new development would be ‘semi-detached’ from Horsham.
Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate), chairman of the committee, said: “It’s a dreadful scheme but the inspector has said we have to do it and it’s council policy and I think it’s our duty as councillors to get the best deal.”
Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) described the procedural restrictions placed on councillors who wanted to read the secret unredacted viability report as ‘onerous’, while Godfrey Newman (LDem, Forest) added: “I think a major issue with the level of affordable housing is are we at risk of failing the residents who are actually on the housing list?”
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), cabinet member for planning and development, said: “This is one of the most important planning applications we have ever seen before this council.”
But she expressed ‘real concern’ that if they delayed the application they would jeopardise their five-year housing land supply.
Mrs Vickers argued they should be ‘jolly grateful’ council officers had negotiated 18 per cent affordable housing and ‘we could have been asking you to approve less’.
She advised councillors not to get ‘wound up about the viability report’, suggesting members may not have ‘read or understood it properly’.
David Skipp (LDem, Horsham Park), leader of the Lib Dem group, suggested dismissing the viability report as ‘being of very little consequence’ was a ‘fairly appalling statement’.
He said: “I think this community will be isolated, it will be a new community. I do not think the links across the A264 are sufficient. We have a major road system there which is now considered as an urban road.”
Chris Lyons, director of planning, economic development and property, described viability as ‘not a black and white science it is an art’, and told councillors that ‘it is unusual or rare for greenfield sites to meet 35 per cent affordable housing’.
Brian O’Connell (Con, Henfield) was the only other councillor to make the case to approve the application, adding: “To delay putting this plan forward and this application today will put the whole thing back and we will be sitting here in 12 month’s time with the same issues.”
He continued: “We can’t do any more. We can’t do any more OK? Now is the time to stand up as councillors make the decision on this application and go forward.”
Mrs Bradnum said: “It’s an ideal opportunity for this council to make sure we get it right. It’s not a question of whether it gets agreed, it’s a question of getting things right that are necessary for the development and this town that is already here.”
At the end of the meeting Mrs Kitchen said: “That’s a rather unsatisfactory ending to a long meeting but that’s the way it’s gone so thank you very much.”
Afterwards Andrew Blevins, managing director of Liberty, said: “Naturally we are disappointed that the Planning Committee North did not feel able on its own to accept the recommendation of its own officers.
“Our outline planning application has been interrogated and tested by the council and every relevant statutory authority consulted. It has proven to be fit for purpose and the council’s own expert consultants confirmed that it represents a good deal for the district.
“Let’s hope the development goes to full council as soon as possible so as to not delay any longer the delivery of much needed housing. Importantly, the outline application provides the foundations for future detailed applications, which we are committed to bringing forward in consultation with the council and community to deliver the best possible development for the area.
“North of Horsham is about positively supporting the future success and prosperity of the town and District for many years to come. It will deliver much-needed new homes and schools, as well as attracting high value businesses and jobs for the community.
“We look forward to our application coming before the Full Council for a decision very soon.”
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