Report on local plan a ‘damning indictment’ of council administration’s competence

Plans for 4,500 new homes, a business park and superstore are being put forward for these green fields at North Horsham. Photo by Steve Cobb. Pic ref S12010520a. ENGSUS00120120127115633
Plans for 4,500 new homes, a business park and superstore are being put forward for these green fields at North Horsham. Photo by Steve Cobb. Pic ref S12010520a. ENGSUS00120120127115633

A report examining Horsham District Council’s local plan is a ‘damning indictment’ of the current administration’s competence - according to the Horsham Society.

Planning inspector Geoff Salter scrutinised Horsham District Council’s local plan in November and has suggested in his initial report at least 15,000 not 13,000 homes should be planned for up to 2031, and said that ‘nothing has convinced me that the proposed allocation for North Horsham is not sound’.

His report, released on Friday December 19 recommended a six-month suspension in the examination hearing, and added it would be up to HDC ‘to decide how best to revise its housing strategy’.

Reacting to the news last week David Moore, chairman of The Horsham Society, said: “We are of course disappointed with the outcome of the HDPF Examination, particularly the planning inspector’s endorsement of the North Horsham Strategic Site, but we have to accept that he has made his decision having considered all the evidence.

“What we now have to do is to ensure that we get the best possible outcome and ensure that all the necessary infrastructure is put in place at an early stage whilst at the same time ensuring that the required amount of affordable housing is delivered.

“However, we are not surprised that he has also told HDC that it must find room for a further 2,000 homes.

“All along the council has sought to plan for the minimum number of new homes it thought it could get away with and during the public examination it was unable to provide a coherent explanation for its strategy or numbers.

“This is a damning indictment of the current administration’s competence and now within a matter of a few months it must identify new sites.

“Furthermore, a combination of the council’s own approach within the HDPF and the inspector’s adjudication leave it few if any options.

“Given the inspector’s endorsement of the North Horsham plan, including his comment that it is the best location for the business park, his agreement with the council that neither spreading development around the district or a new town are appropriate solutions, and his endorsement of the council’s settlement hierarchy – Horsham first, then Southwater and Billingshurst – it means that the only viable options that would make the plan sound are Southwater and Billingshurst.

“The irony, which will not be lost on residents, is that, as there is little science in housing numbers, had the council pitched its offer at a more realistic but still relatively modest number the planning inspector might have let it through.”

In Mr Salter’s report he said: “The developer of North Horsham was very positive about the prospects for deliverability and viability of the business park element of the allocation, given its location on the strategic road network and the potential for good rail access.

“From my visits throughout the plan area, I consider this to be the employment site with the most realistic chance of combining commercial success with reasonable provision of access by public transport.

“Overall, the housing and employment benefits of the proposed allocation would significantly outweigh the disadvantages of the environmental impacts, which in my view would not be unacceptably severe.”

Meanwhile Frances Haigh (LDem, Horsham Park), leader of the Lib Dem Group at HDC, said: “The inspector had to judge what was presented to him. He has found the North of Horsham site to be acceptable.

“In our opinion, this site has never been acceptable and continues to remain so as it is likely to be within the high noise contours of the second runway should this proceed, as demonstrated within the Davies Commission consultation documents.

“We will continue to oppose development on this site as it offers poor urban planning by not being part of the town and by its close proximity to the airport.

“The requirement to provide a minimum of 2,000 more homes means that the towns of Southwater and Billingshurst are still in the frame for further development.

“The Conservatives attempt to protect these areas has failed. The HDPF has removed all of our strategic gaps allowing development to spread in every direction.

“Whereas the three areas of Horsham, Southwater and Broadbridge Heath could have gradually evolved into a pleasant, well-designed garden city, we now have the town extending in every direction, with a carbuncle north of the A264.”

She added: “It is clear that the Inspector is expecting the council to decide how to revise its strategy in the light of the need for an extra 2000 homes.

“HDC now has the opportunity to prepare an amended strategy, with ‘full public consultation’ and to ensure that this time the strategy has the support of the whole community that HDC represents.

“This poor, mismanaged first attempt may be touted by some as how they have saved Horsham District from development rape; the only problem is that they have destroyed the town.”

For further reaction see this Thursday’s County Times.

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