There were accusations of ‘scaremongering’ and claims councillors were not taking the housing shortage seriously enough last week, as proposals to build at least 15,000 homes across the Horsham district were passed.
In a three hour passionate debate on Wednesday March 18, Horsham District Council voted through modifications to its Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF). One of the main changes is to increase its housing provision from 13,000 to at least 15,000 in the plan period to 2031.
It followed the planning inspector’s initial report which said provision already included in the HDPF was 2,000 homes short.
The changes agreed will see the new builds increase from 650 homes across the district each year to at least 750 homes. This takes into account overspill from Crawley as well as some to cater for population growth on the South Coast.
The council has approved many developments in recent years, however, cabinet member for living and working communities Claire Vickers said the ones councillors chose to refuse were often being won on appeal.
She pleaded with members to approve the plan in order to stick to the inspector’s six month timetable.
I think it’s putting the cart before the horse and I feel very strongly I’m being treated as a second class councillor by not having that information in front of meDavid Skipp, Liberal Democrat councillor for Roffey North
She said: “Without a new plan based on the National Policy Planning Framework we are totally open to speculative applications from developers.
“Applications will continue to be lost on appeal at a significant cost to our taxpayers both in monetary terms and the lack of community facilities. This will continue until we have a plan in place.
“However we also know, that unlike most other authorities, we are now just shy of having a sound Plan.
“Once we have it in place it will enable us to remove our five year housing supply shortfall and regain control of development within our district.”
In April 2014, Horsham District Council approved the planning framework to include several strategic sites on top of the developments already given permission in the period from 2011-15.
The changes agreed last week, for the plan period up to 2031, result in several changes, mainly surrounding housing numbers. The word ‘around’ means ten per cent larger or smaller to enable flexibility. The changes are as follows:
- Inserting the word ‘around’ to the policy for 2,500 homes on land north of Horsham.
- Inserting the word ‘around’ to the policy for 600 homes west of Southwater.
- At least (instead of ‘around’) 1,500 homes throughout the district in line with the settlement hierarchy (Horsham first followed by Billingshurst then Southwater and others).
- A new addition to the plan: Around 150 homes on land south of Billingshurst.
- Student accommodation for potential students at A University of Sussex campus at the old Novartis site: Around 200 units at land south of Parsonage Road.
The chamber was divided as some councillors - many representing wards in the north of the district - refused to support the modifications until they had seen the most up to date population projections. They heard this could be released in a matter of days.
However head of strategic planning Barbara Childs explained the extra provision was in line with existing studies released in the past month.
Speaking to those opposing the increased numbers, Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Colwaltham) said: “The inspector’s figures are set in stone. I’m afraid you are nitpicking to the nth degree.
“The inspector put a range of 750-800. There’s no wriggle room other than to go for the 750, which is what’s being proposed at the moment.
“We have to get these figures through otherwise we are totally doomed.”
Others were insulted by such remarks accusing supporters of scaremongering.
David Skipp (LDem, Roffey North) said: “I felt extremely patronised by the comment that perhaps I don’t understand what this is about tonight.
“We do understand what this debate is about tonight, we do understand the seriousness of it. We do understand we will be doomed if we don’t go for the plan itself.
“What we are asking for it to have all the information before us before we actually make a decision.
“I think it’s putting the cart before the horse and I feel very strongly I’m being treated as a second class councillor by not having that information in front of me.
“Two or three weeks - we should have that time and evidence. It’s not being dramatic; it’s just being sensible.”
Liz Kitchen (Con, Rusper and Colgate) added: “It’s well known I’m not happy with the North Horsham site and it’s also well known that I do not go along with the scaremongering that’s going on that if we don’t send this out this evening there will be problems, because it’s known there are alternative sites that haven’t been looked at.
“One of those sites in particular could have the business park. It could have everything, but it’s not been looked at by this council at all.”
Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) said: “I do not agree with the scaremongering idea. I think it’s important we have a workable plan in place, but have a plan that we all agree with, the public agree with and will push forward the Horsham district.
“We have got to get this right. We have not got it right. If it takes another year to go back and sort it, that’s fine.”
David Holmes raised concerns about infrastructure.
He said: “I want this to be approved by the inspector, but I am concerned what we are proposing to go back to the inspector won’t be robust and won’t be found sound.
“A key thing, if we are going up to the 750, is that will have infrastructure implications.
“I don’t see those being identified in here and it could make it unsound.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Frances Haigh, put forward a motion to delay the vote for two to three weeks.
She said: “We cannot put this out to consultation without having all the evidence in front of us. You have given us the conclusions, but not the evidence.”
She later added: “We want to be sure this plan is sound. Whatever we think about North Horsham, there’s a risk it would not be found sound (without this evidence).”
Mrs Haigh’s motion to defer was lost and after members had all had their say there was a recorded vote on the original recommendations.
They were passed by 21 votes to 11. Four councillors abstained while eight were absent.
Councillors were assured if the outstanding evidence gave rise to an major changes to the HDPF, it would be brought back to full council for further debate.
All the HDPF Main Modifications, Sustainability Appraisal and amended Proposals Map have now been published for a six-week period of representation to the planning inspector starting on Monday (March 23) and running until May 5.
To view the documents search for ‘HDPF examination’ on www.horsham.gov.uk