Horsham is facing the ‘biggest decision in a generation’ over plans for 2,500 houses north of the town according to campaigners.
Hundreds of residents packed out North Heath Hall on Monday September 9 to share their views with North Horsham Parish Council as it prepares its submission to Horsham District Council over the new draft housing strategy.
HDC is currently consulting on where and how many houses it will build over the next 20 years, which contains proposals for a new business park and new homes north of the A264.
Kicking off the meeting Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East), a district and county councillor, told the audience it had two options, to find another site, or to challenge the interim sustainability appraisal.
He added: “My fear is if we can’t find a credible alternative we will get stuck with this.”
Mr Rae said he was on record as saying localism was a sham, but legislation was forcing the district council into a corner.
“We need to think outside the box, you can’t simply say no,” he explained.
“We can’t stop it, we have to move it.”
However speakers queued up to object to breaching the ‘sacrosanct’ boundary of the town, with many claiming housebuilding would have a damaging impact on Horsham.
To thunderous applause Wayne Stutchbury, representing campaign group Residents Against Greenfield Erosion, said: “Unquestionably the majority of Horsham district residents have no idea that the biggest decision in a generation is about to be made and the massive impact this decision could have on the character and beauty of Horsham into the future.”
Irina Rohvarger, part of campaign group Save Horsham, felt the district council had not yet made its case as to why a business park, or industrial estate, was necessary for the area.
“I have lived in Horsham for 20 years and I value like so many people the amenities provided by the green spaces around the town,” she said.
“I think that this is a serious issue for the community and the opposition could go for a very long time.”
With standing room only and the hall limited by fire regulations to a capacity of 240, around 40 people gathered outside to hear proceedings via loudspeaker.
Other Save Horsham speakers included Steve Maddock, who asked why consultation had been done over the summer and told the audience there was no proven need for a new industrial estate.
Harry Shutt, an economic expert, also questioned the proposed benefit of building a new business park, and whether the only beneficiary of the scheme would be American-based property developers Liberty.
“What we might be left with is a white elephant which simply is a blot on the landscape,” Mr Shutt said. “We do not need to sacrifice our landscape to benefit the profit line of a foreign company.”
Speaker Rachel Fuller said: “The council seems to be taking the easy way out, putting a quick proposal in to put a tick on the box.”
She added: “We should ask Horsham District Council to withdraw this proposal and submit a proper plan.”
Paul Thornton bemoaned the fact they would get no new hospital but a crematorium, Sheila White said building homes on the ‘eminently unsuitable’ site was ‘total folly’, while Tony Hogben questioned why more business space was needed when so much of it was currently empty in Crawley.
Mr Thorton said: “This document [the draft plan] is long on waffle and extremely short on detail. There are six lines on why North Horsham is the preferred option.
“How the hell are we supposed to make informed decisions on that.
“It’s just not fair.”
John Steele, of the Horsham Society, questioned why only 500 homes were proposed for Southwater when a 2012 HDC document had ranked it as a more suitable site for housing than North Horsham, and why Mid Sussex District Council was being allowed to veto a new market town between Sayers Common and Henfield.
Mr Maddock asked: “If Mid Sussex and Southwater won’t take this proposal why should we?”