BILLINGSHURST residents were out in force on Tuesday to defend refusal of plans for 150 homes in the village despite Horsham District Council backing out of a planning inquiry.
Members of the parish council, Save Billingshurst Action Group and residents urged a government planning inspector to dismiss the appeal by A2 Dominion New Homes for 150 homes on land off Marringdean Road.
Horsham District Council refused the application in February stating the development was ‘premature’ because of its intention to pursue a planned approach to housing development through an interim statement.
But after public consultation in Billingshurst and Southwater overwhelmingly rejected this approach, the council’s cabinet agreed to stop work on the interim statement.
The council then said its original main reason for refusal of the application was ‘indefensible’.
Speakers at the planning inquiry at Park North on Tuesday were surprised at the council’s stance, saying its decision was not final until a full council meeting the following evening.
Inspector Paul Clark said the main issues of the appeal were whether the site was an appropriate location, the effects on the character and appearance of the area, living conditions of neighbours, the local infrastructure and the supply of housing need.
For A2 Dominion New Homes, Mr Mark Lowe QC said the council refused the plans contrary to the professional advice of its officers.
He said there was ‘no substance’ to the council’s claims of ‘prematurity’ because the emerging legislation after the revocation of the South East Plan by the Government was not active legislation.
The topography of the site meant there was no effect on neighbouring amenity.
The council had failed to comply with its five-year supply of land to fulfil housing need and had less than three years’ worth.
More ‘compelling’ was its need to supply affordable housing and the council was ‘falling well behind on provision’ at 14 per cent of its target.
“My clients are a registered social landlord, a provider of social housing, and any profits will be ploughed back into the community to benefit, in particular, social housing in the area,” he said.
The site was a sustainable location within easy reach of Billingshurst by foot or cycle.
Clerk Beverley Bell read a lengthy statement to the inspector on behalf of Billingshurst Parish Council to a round of applause from the public gallery.
She said the South East Plan should still be a consideration and the district was able to fulfil its five year housing supply.
The affordable housing was not suitable for many of the single people or couples without children in need in Billingshurst.
Pointing out other ongoing or agreed plans which would have a ‘cumulative effect’, she said: “Billingshurst is being expected to take more than its fair share of housing development.”
The Government was encouraging protecting greenfield sites like this agricultural land and there was concern for future residents who would be living close to a noisy industrial estate and pumping station.
Southern Water said there would have to be extra capacity for the foul water system, although Mr Lowe said the company had no objection to the plan, traffic calming measures would lead to the ‘urbanisation’ of rural roads and the transport infrastructure and schools would not cope with the extra residents.
Police were going to carry out speed checks in Marringdean Road but said there was nowhere safe for them to do so.
Localism meant developers should take into account residents’ views.
“This is an unsuitable, unwanted and opportunistic application that would severely harm the southern end of the village,” she said.
Several residents mentioned flooding at the junction of Marringdean Road and Natts Lane and the danger of the junction itself.
Parish councillor Lesley Wilding said 158 properties were on the estate agents’ books in the village, with only 54 under offer.
Also there were already regular breakdowns at the pumping station and the sewage had to be manually pumped and transported by lorry.
The level crossing gates were down eight times an hour, adding to the traffic problems, and the alternative route was Natts Lane where there was a height restriction.
She said the county council transport reports showed a ‘complete lack of awareness’ of local highway issues.
Save Billingshurst Action Group’s Sue Kingston said the new residents were likely to use supermarkets in Pulborough, not helping the local shops.
She pointed out they would be a long way from schools, the GP surgery and shops and would drive.
“Every available pocket in the patch has got houses on it and there is the threat of 550 more,” she said.
“Any further development will sound the death knoll for Billingshurst as a cohesive community. Billingshurst quite simply can’t take any more.”
The inspector will make his decision at a later date.
n see comment on page 10