LETTER: Council defence on housing targets

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Members of Horsham District Council (HDC) are justified in their concerns that even with an Inspector-approved new plan they will as now be required to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply (‘Council stuck in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world’, WSCT 18 Sep 14).

After all, should developers not build houses at the rate required by the new plan, it will be the council which will be held accountable by the Planning Inspectorate, not the developers – and communities will once again be vulnerable to developer-imposed development.

Cllr Malcolm Curnock has asked a very sensible question ‘is there any way we can defend ourselves’ (WSCT 18 Sep 14). Yes, indeed there is - it is to change the method used to calculate the District’s five-year housing land supply.

Members are presumably aware that to calculate the District’s five-year housing-land supply the council’s officers now employ the so-called ‘Sedgefield’ method whereby the council’s historic undersupply is added to the five- year housing-land-supply requirement as opposed to the rest of the plan period as has been the case in the past.

According to the council’s Authority Monitoring Report 2012/13, the decision to apply this method ‘taken on the advice of the Inspector at the RMC Engineering Appeal’ (2012), has put the council ‘in a much more vulnerable position when fighting appeals’. This is because the resulting grossly inflated target is excessive and unachievable and takes no account of the recession’s impact on house building.

HDC should therefore follow the example of Rother District Council, which has successfully negotiated with the Planning Inspectorate a return to the method whereby any shortfalls in houses built against the local-plan target are spread over the remaining plan period (the so-called ‘Liverpool’ method), instead of being added to the five-year requirement.

A return to the ‘Liverpool’ approach in Horsham District, in place of the inequitable ‘Sedgefield’ method, would reduce the likelihood of yet more impossible-to-achieve five-year targets should developers cut back their delivery of new houses, as they did during the recession.

Horsham District Council really should follow Rother District’s example.

Unquestioning adherence to the ‘recommendation’ of a Planning Inspector at an Appeal in 2012, which has made the District particularly vulnerable to developer-imposed development, is not a sensible option.

Dr R.F. SMITH

For Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Sussex-Horsham District, Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield