Scrutiny of the council’s housing blueprint began on Tuesday with lively debate over the amount of future housing needed in the Horsham district.
Over a period of three weeks planning inspector Geoff Salter will test the soundness of Horsham District Council’s Horsham District Planning Framework, which sets out where 13,000 new homes will be built in the next 20 years.
Many of the homes already have planning permission including large scale development West of Horsham and at Kilnwood Vale near Bewbush, but the plan also involves a highly controversial scheme for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264.
Speaking at the start of the hearing Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry), leader of HDC, said: “This has not been a simple or straightforward matter and has raised considerable passion and debate since it has involved us making decisions that people, especially living close to areas that are proposed for more housing, do not universally welcome.
“Life would be so easy if we could accomplish all the aims of policy without occurring any discontent but that is not the case. In attempting to make those decisions necessary for the future of our district we have had to make some hard choices, balancing environmental concerns against the need to provide homes and jobs for now and in the future.”
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), HDC’s cabinet member for living and working communities, added: “One of our greatest economic assets is our high quality and attractive environment and the plan has been carefully prepared to strike an appropriate balance between providing environmental protection and providing development which is viable and deliverable. Our vision is that we want to continue to provide a pleasant place to both live and work.
“The preparation of this plan has considered a range of alternatives, including the best way in which development can be located and the most appropriate sites for development.
“These alternatives have been thoroughly tested and the strategy, which has been taken forward, is considered to be a flexible approach which best meets future needs.”
The first day focused on general issues, with the council coming under fire from developers for setting its housing target at 650 homes per year.
According to council officers the figure was reached through an objective assessment of the district’s housing needs.
Barbara Childs, HDC’s head of strategic planning, said that while they were ‘a relatively unconstrained area’ compared to Crawley and the coastal regions, the district provided an environmental service to other areas, flood attenuation, and green corridors.
She added: “The council has used a balance of these factors looking at our objectively assessed needs and the needs of our neighbours as well as the environmental capacity.”
But John Rhodes of Quod, acting on behalf of Mayfield Market Towns, argued that the 650 did not meet employment growth factors, take into account market signals, or meet affordable housing need.
He explained: “Effectively the plan is planned on out of date figures not taking into account the guidelines in national planning practice guidelines.”
However on the other side of the argument Roger Arthur (UKIP, Chanctonbury), a UKIP Horsham district councillor and his party’s prospective parliamentary candidate in Horsham, pointed out that during the eight years prior to the 2008 recession average housebuilding in the district was just 453 homes a year.
Malcolm Curnock (LDem, Broadbridge Heath), a Lib Dem district councillor, argued that a reliance on large-scale housing developments could see the council fall behind on its targets, as had happened with the West of Horsham developments and Kilnwood Vale.
DUTY TO CO-OPERATE
After lunch the debate moved on to whether HDC had met the ‘duty to co-operate’ test, set out in the Localism Act 2011, which legally requires local planning authorities to ‘engage constructively’ with their neighbours on cross boundary issues.
James Stevens, of the Home Builders Federation, felt it was difficult to discern whether HDC had helped meet the need of neighbouring local authorities such as Mid Sussex, when they did not know what this need was.
Reigate and Banstead had a shortfall of 190 dwellings a year, while London’s housing need would have ‘consequences’ for the wider South East area.
A Crawley Borough Council planning officer explained that it could meet about 60 per cent of its demographic assessed need within its boundaries, totalling 8,100 homes over 15 years, leaving it 3,000 homes short.
Others mentioned that the coastal authorities including Adur, Arun, Chichester, and Brighton and Hove, also had a large difference between their identified housing need and the number of homes allocated.
Julia Dawe, planning policy advisor at HDC, responded: “We believe that Horsham District Council, from the outset, has met the duty to co-operate in an effective manner.”
Geoff Sallows, a Rusper parish councillor, said: “My biggest complaint about the soundness of the current plan there’s no long term view about what the long term balance of the Horsham district is.
“There’s a finite amount of space. Where is the balance where that stops being sustainable when it all breaks down?”
Mr Salter replied: “The wider issue is a question I would put to you is: ‘Is it good we should be going for a thousand [homes] a year and what would be the environmental impacts of that, and if we are going to go for that how do we do it and is it achievable?’”
Roger Smith, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Horsham district branch, felt that authorities such as HDC had been ‘put in a very difficult or impossible decision in the recent past’ with changes to Government planning policy, and a number of uncertain factors.
He added: “To me this seems already piecemeal. It’s not really a sensible way of planning the future of the Horsham district or any other district in the long term.”
Mr Salter replied: “That’s what the Government guidance says, that’s what we have got to do.”
The inspector also briefly heard criticisms of the consultation process.
HDC consulted on its preferred strategy last summer, and held a six week period of representation on the proposed submission to the inspector between April and June this year.
Mr Arthur argued that full information on alternative options to the North Horsham scheme had not been provided, and felt the allocation of 500,000 square feet of office space was not based on sufficient evidence.
Harry Shutt, a member of the public, criticised HDC for not holding a public meeting, instead holding a meeting in public where questions were submitted in advance.
Chris Lyons, HDC’s new director of planning, economic development, and property, said: “In terms of a lot of comments it’s about perceiving a different opinion about what the outcome should have been.”
But Joan Frazer, chair of Rusper Parish Council, pointed to a string of secret HDC meetings held in the run-up to the publication of its preferred strategy in July 2013.
Strategic Planning Advisory Group meetings were held in public until Mrs Vickers became cabinet member for living and working communities in 2013.
While specific sites and schemes are scheduled to be discussed in depth later in the hearings David Moore, chairman of the Horsham Society, said they felt the planning framework was ‘flawed’ due to its focus on the north against the rest of the district.
Alternatives to the North Horsham scheme had been disregarded ‘but no adequate reasons given why’, he added.
Housing numbers were discussed in more depth yesterday (Thursday November 6), while the North Horsham scheme will be the focus on Tuesday November 11 and Southwater on Wednesday November 12.
Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, and Sir Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex, have both asked the planning inspector if they can speak against Mayfield’s proposal for a new 10,000-home settlement between Sayers Common and Henfield.
For more see next Thursday’s County Times