I am responding to the somewhat patronising letters and associated articles concerning North Horsham development from Messrs Rae and Dawe and Ms Vickers in last week’s WSCT.
As well as seemingly being unable to hold or chair a real public meeting to properly debate the issue of meeting the housing and business development needs of the District, they are now seeking to railroad their favoured North Horsham scheme through.
That they had actively sought alternative plans which then appear to have been rubbished by the all pervading trio on cursory examination seems to have escaped them.
The evidence from the Nathaniel Lichfield report for the council on the need for office space is diametrically at odds with the previous report prepared for HDC by GVA Grimley. It would also seem to be at odds with Liberty Homes’ view of the market for office space in the context of their much hailed (by the trio), West Malling Kings Hill development.
A quick search on the internet reveals some fascinating material on the West Malling development by Liberty Homes. It shows that there is currently over 120,000 sq ft of empty office space on the West Malling site. So much so that Liberty has submitted an application to Kent County Council to reduce by 400,000 sq ft, about a third, the amount of office space they intended to build on the site and develop houses instead.
See the following link and comments taken from the Liberty Homes Kings Hill West Malling website:
The planning application reference number is TM/13/01535/OA and can be viewed on the Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council website via the link below:
A plan of the proposed development for this latest phase at Kings Hill is shown above and as a download document on the right.
The land which is included within the revised application has historically been zoned for commercial use. However local supply and demand has altered and this change of land use will see a re-balancing between commercial and residential uses. (My emboldening)
It suggests Liberty Homes are not very good at forecasting demand for office space. A characteristic they share with the ruling group on HDC who hopelessly overestimated the impact of Horsham redevelopment when they allowed Sun Alliance to devastate to centre of Horsham to secure 4,000 jobs, when we are now down to about a third of that number with continued uncertainty about keeping even those remaining jobs.
With the amount of unoccupied office space in central Horsham we do not need another out of town business-park. If the current empty Horsham office stock is not fit for purpose, as implied by Nathaniel Lichfield, then HDC has the option to sanction its refurbishment, allow owners to redevelop the sites with new build or convert to high density housing.
None of that requires development of open farmland away from established transport links and related amenities. Most rational people recognise there is never going to be a new rail station in north Horsham as there is no capacity on peak trains or train path capacity on the critical London Brighton line to justify it.
Whilst the North Horsham site’s proximity to the flight path alignment of a Gatwick second runway would mean significant noise exposure to new residents of the high value houses that are critical to the viability of the scheme, making them much less attractive.
Few are questioning the need for new homes, particularly affordable and starter homes, to meet the needs of the District.
The key issue is where they should be developed. The ruling group on HDC has a duty to be seen to have assessed all the options thoroughly before announcing their verdict.