LETTER: Bonus does not influence council

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I refer to the letters commenting on the recent Billingshurst planning application in the County Times of the 5/9/13.

Despite having over 7,000 approved planning applications which represents over ten years’ supply at the South East Plan housing target of 650 new homes per year, Horsham District Council does not have a five year housing land supply.

In addition it does not have an up to date District Plan although it is presently consulting on a draft plan. In March 2012 the Government introduced a new National Planning Policy (NPPF) which explicitly states that if the development plan is out of date then planning permission must be granted unless adverse impacts outweigh the benefits or the development is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

In July 2012 the council rejected an application to build 550 dwellings to the NE of Billingshurst. The principle reasons for rejecting this application were effect on the landscape and that it was premature because the council was in the process of preparing a new plan.

This application has been appealed with the appeal hearing due to be held in October 2013. Meanwhile the developers submitted a new application to build 475 dwellings on the same location. This application was approved by the council at the August Development Control meeting.

The three local councillors did not support the application. However, the council reluctantly approved the application for the following reasons. 1) Since the NPPF was introduced no local authority has been able to defend a refusal against an application of this type;

2) NPPF as stated above requires the council to pass the application;

3) None of the reasons given for objecting to the application were supported by the relevant authorities (eg WSCC did not agree that it would cause traffic problems, the water authorities did not object, green field intrusion is not a valid reason for objecting unless the development is in an AoNB, the fact that the development is outside a built up area boundary is not a valid reason for objecting, etc);

4) Increased flood risk was cited as a reason. The developers submitted plans which demonstrated that the rate of flow of surface water from the site will be no higher than the current rate.

Unless objections are backed up by the relevant authorities an inspector will allow the appeal and the council loses whatever influence it has on the application of S106 funding and the tax payer picks up all the costs of the appeal. The conclusion that there were very weak grounds for refusing the application was backed by advice from a senior QC who specialises in planning matters.

This site would not have been included in the council’s emerging District Plan if this application and pending appeal had not been in place. This is because:- 1) Billingshurst is located outside the Gatwick Diamond economic development area and as such is a less sustainable place to locate large housing developments than sites within the Gatwick Diamond area and it is unlikely to attract significant commercial development; and 2) the council’s landscape architect considers the development site to be in an area of sensitive landscape.

I can understand why the Billingshurst Chamber of Commerce supports the application since it will bring increased trade into Billingshurst.

Finally I can categorically state that Horsham District Council is not influenced at all by the prospect of New Homes Bonus when considering planning matters and it is insulting to infer that this the case.

GORDON LINDSAY

(Con) Horsham district councillor for Billingshurst and Shipley, North Street, Horsham