‘Catastrophe’ for Billingshurst

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HORSHAM District Council’s impending abandonment of what appears, by its own admission, to be right for Billingshurst, is a catastrophe for the village and, I suspect, HDC’s leader, Robert Nye, and the council knows this.

Democracy does not exclude leadership, Mr Nye, and now may be the moment to demonstrate this in the absence of leadership from anywhere else.

It appears that there is concern within the HDC over disproportionate influence of a vocal minority and, well done to them. Those organisations ran a good emotional campaign, although misguided in my view.

Of course the person on the street will vote ‘No’ versus ‘Yes’ if asked about ‘planned development’ in their village. The problem is that the ‘Nos’ don’t have a plan for Billinghurst’s future. I have asked for one and not seen one.

The ‘Nos’’ view is sincere, but it is captured in the rear view mirror. There is no vision, and were there one, they would run into one of the trees featured in their leaflets. I do believe that they have Billingshurst at heart, and they may have a Billingshurst address, but they live on Mars.

The phrase ‘No planned development’ comprises three words and we have been hypnotised by two of them: ‘no’ and ‘development’. The word we should have concentrated on is ‘planned’ because the houses are coming anyway.

That’s because, as the HDC says, ‘No planned development’ does not mean ‘No development’. It means shambolic development with disparate housing projects cropping up in fields all over the place with no logic or thought other than the land owners’ and developers’ wallets.

We will get the same number of houses, or more, built anyway under the ‘No planned development’. The developers’ planning applications are already in and the moment the master plan is abandoned, they will come up individually for approval by the same people we have just forced to reject ‘planned development’.

With ‘planned development’ we would have got the best possible deal out of the developers – well planned housing where we want it, plus community facilities including roads, schools, and a cemetery and a plan for employment. Most of all, the developers were to pay for a feasibility study for our sad village centre that would have helped to stop it from falling further into decay.

And, yes, the HDC did organise exhibitions and leaflets. But they should have known that they were never going to win the hearts and minds of the Billingshurst populace on this one, easily. Difficult issues need leadership. One thing is clear, though, if the plans are abandoned, we won’t need extra housing because no one will want to live in Billingshurst.

Today Billingshurst is dead on its feet. Empty shops punctuate the High Street. Retailers bleed (more than elsewhere), another restaurant has just closed and the shameful Jengers Mead shopping slum in the heart of the village is semi-derelict during the day, its car park owned by a landlord who has swapped aggressive clamping for charging disabled folk to park. And it is an intimidating playground for troublemakers by night.

Great. Let’s ‘save’ Billingshurst and do nothing. Let’s accelerate our slide into dereliction.

No way. I am a member of the Billingshurst Chamber of Commerce and have an interest in an estate agency, but my views are as a Billingshurst home owner for 25 years.

Both sides in the argument love the village. We all want a gorgeous village that can flourish surrounded by countryside without sporadic, messy clumps of dysfunctional dormitory developments that will come if this plan is abandoned.

Please, Mr Nye and the HDC, don’t let our village die through an absence of leadership either in Horsham or in Billingshurst. Please do not allow the Big Society dream to see Tiny Society win the day through a well organised, but unrealistic, minority.

So, I guess we have until HDC’s September council meeting and vote to be heard again to really save our village.

MARTIN SPURRIER

Coneyhurst, Billingshurst