Vice-chairman elect condemns fellow councillors for ‘utter lunacy’ in not voting for new school at Barns Green

Horsham District Councillor Christian Mitchell - picture submitted by HDC
Horsham District Councillor Christian Mitchell - picture submitted by HDC

The Conservative vice-chairman elect at Horsham District Council Christian Mitchell today condemned his fellow councillors for ‘utter lunacy’ in not voting in favour of a planning application for a new school and 69 homes at Barns Green.

He said the Tory-controlled council’s planning policies were ‘in Alice in Wonderland’ after his colleagues voted to defer the application because it wanted more low cost housing in the scheme - the subsidy for which was already funding the £4m school.

School children and villagers packed out the council chambers to hear the council debate for Berkeley Homes’ scheme for a new school for Itchingfield Primary School. The application had widespread support throughout the village - which fears that it will eventually lose its school without such an initiative.

Officers had recommended that the application should be refused because of the lack of affordable housing, but 141 letters of support were received, as opposed to eight objecting. Pupils also sent in an added 24 letters.

At the meeting, Mr Mitchell, along with the local councillors, spoke passionately in support of the application. But the Tories’ cabinet members Helena Croft and Claire Vickers voted with the Lib Dem opposition to defer.

Afterwards, Mr Mitchell (Holbrook West) said: “The public elect us and as their elected representatives we write the council’s planning polices.

“Our planning policies have to have the full confidence of the public or they must be changed. If not, we are in Alice in Wonderland. This happened in this application with the community unanimously telling their elected councillors that they support this development, but their elected representatives saying that we cannot vote in support of the application because the policies that we ourselves wrote prohibit us from doing so. This is utter lunacy.

“We also need to apply common sense when interpreting our planning policies and be prepared to be flexible when circumstances dictate. I have repeatedly stated at planning meetings that polices are guidelines and not tramlines.

“The local planning policy of demanding 40 per cent affordable housing is a utopian vision and is utterly unrealistic. We have never seen a developer able to afford to give such a share. The Leader and the Cabinet must ‘call in’ these policies to be looked at urgently. We cannot have such commendable developments falling by the wayside like this one on the back of dogmatic socialist polices.

“The Parish and the two local district members with the community had negotiated an extraordinary deal with Berkeley Homes that would have saved the taxpayers of West Sussex a significant amount of money in repairing two school buildings separated by over a mile. Berkeley Homes were building a new school and the community money to do this was just under £4.5m. That is a figure that we the taxpayer simply cannot afford to find in the currently economic climate.

“Berkeley Homes were giving more than six times the financial contribution to this site than they ordinarily would do. Asking for more from them really would be killing the golden goose – we have to work with the private sector to get the best that we can. The local community with the Parish and the two District members had done just that through 18 months of painstaking and sensitive negotiations and this could be very nearly undone.

“I very much doubt that Berkeley Homes will be able to change the application since it was so finely balanced financially. I do hope that they will bring it back to the next meeting and for them to set out their case again. Having looked a gift horse in the mouth I do hope that they do not walk away because the real risk to the local community is that the school will close due to the condition that it is in.

“And to sacrifice so much on the altar of out-dated local planning policies, to say the least, would be folly of the worst.”

The school is currently split over two sites, one in Itchingfield and another in Barns Green. Plans would consolidate the school on to one site in Barns Green. The new homes would be located north of Two Mile Ash Road.

For the full report on the meeting and reaction see this Thursday’s County Times.