Fighting for green fields

NO MORE than four months ago a government planning inspector refused the application by Bellway Homes to build 55 homes on land east of Daux Avenue in Billingshurst.

In her opinion the combination of two matters led to her decision: the effects of the scheme on the character and appearance of the countryside and landscape and her being unconvinced as to the protection afforded to the ancient woodland by the strategy proposed.

Opposition to the scheme by local residents was also very clear throughout the appeal process.

This was the third time this piece of land has been turned down for planning, twice at local strategic level and now by a government inspector.

It was with a sinking heart that local residents received the news that Horsham District Council has received a further planning application from the same developers for 49 houses on the same piece of land.

The only discernable change in the most recent application is the reduction in size from 55 to 49 dwellings and a minor change to the boundary next to the ancient woodland. The scheme will still have a detrimental effect on the character of the landscape (ie, it is built development outside existing boundary) and will still occupy the foraging land essential for the protection and integrity of the adjacent ancient woodland.

The developers seem to agree the similarity, arguing that (in a letter from Andrew Munton, Bellway’s regional planning director to Gary Peck, planning officer for HDC, available on the HDC website) ‘the scheme is very similar, with only minor changes to a small part of the scheme, to that considered at Appeal and maintains the same red line. As such this application is submitted on the basis of a ‘free go’.

‘Free go’, I assume, being code for not having to pay for what appears to be a simple restatement of their previous application and I guess the ‘red line’ means boundary.

If their new scheme is so similar what grounds can they possibly have for putting in a new planning application? To do so seems to me to show contempt for the checks and balances within the planning system that offer protection for both landscape and the democratic process.

I have complained before about a sense that local people feel bullied by the persistence of these developers in not listening to the refusals they have been given by local strategic planning decisions, a government appointed inspector and the clearly expressed objections by local residents.

I can understand, but I am disappointed in the number of times recently I am hearing people saying with resignation ‘there is nothing we can do’.

For those people in the short term please find out about and join your local action group – my experience is that they are far from the backward looking NIMBYs depicted by supporters of greenfield development.

In reality these groups are often are filled with forward thinking, creative people from a range of mainstream political persuasions looking to generate ideas and new ways of thinking to secure the local business and employment infrastructure to support sustainable futures of their local communities without damage to the environment and landscape.

In the longer term, if we believe in democracy we have the ballot box. There are many seeing this issue loosening their affiliation and faith in national political parties.

In West Sussex, where it is often quoted that a ‘Donkey in a blue rosette could win a parliamentary seat’, perhaps it is time to give that donkey a wake up at the ballot box.

DAVID HART

Rosier Way, Billingshurst