Residents rocked by new bid for 550 homes

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JUST days after Horsham District Council announced plans to drop its strategic housing plan the spectre of 550 new homes returned to threaten Southwater.

The council’s Interim Statement, which looks set to be consigned to the planning dustbin, had earmarked 1,000 new homes shared between Southwater and Billingshurst.

Campaigners and a parish council reacted with glee when the council announced its intention to drop the unpopular planned growth strategy - which some thought would spare the two sites from large scale development.

But as the County Times reported three weeks ago, dropping the Interim Statement will not stop large scale development but rather encourage ad-hoc applications.

If council planners refuse such ‘unplanned’ applications they could well be approved on appeal or at judicial review.

The latest development row in Southwater could prove an important test case for the new planning environment across the Horsham district should the Interim Statement be dropped - as is likely.

A spokesman for Billingshurst Chamber of Commerce warned dumping the planned growth strategy would mean ‘disaster’ for the local community and economy.

The 550-home Southwater plan will come as a blow to residents and campaigners who had believed the council’s move would protect their villages - despite warnings to the contrary.

Berkeley Homes has applied for outline planning permission to build ‘up to 550 dwellings with associated vehicular, cycle and pedestrian access, drainage and landscape works’ to the west of Worthing Road in Southwater.

Residents in Billingshurst should brace themselves for news of similar applications as council leader Robert Nye warned more were in the pipeline.

The application also includes providing land for a new local secondary school and sport facilities.

A similar scheme, which would have included around 500 new homes in Billingshurst, was to have been accepted as part of the council’s Interim Statement..

The Interim Statement was strongly opposed by many locals, who saw it as a surrender to the property developers.

But in a twist of planning law without a planned strategy for growth the outcome could be more houses and less control over what facilities such schemes might include.

The final decision on whether to scrap the statement will be made at a full council meeting in September, but the HDC cabinet has recommended that it should be dropped.

Speaking before the Cabinet meeting, HDC leader Robert Nye had said he was concerned that abolishing the statement might open the door to sporadic ‘unplanned’ development, eventually adding up to even more homes.

A statement from HDC said: “The overriding view from those people who responded from both Billingshurst and Southwater was that HDC should not plan for growth in these villages.

“They supported Option One: No Planned Growth.

“This does not mean ‘no development’ but planning applications for development would be dealt with on an ad hoc basis.

“This would include applications for around 500 homes at both Billingshurst and Southwater, which developers have been discussing with these communities, as well as other applications which may be received across the district.”

Local campaign group Keep Southwater Green has previously said that it would oppose such an application, just as it opposed the Interim Statement.