Letter: Fill 1,200 empty homes

AFTER attending the Horsham District Council Strategic Planning Advisory Group (SPAG) meeting on January 12 where, unfortunately, only a small number of councillors (ie, our elected representatives) seemed to understand the implications and problems with creating mass urbanisation of the district, I have devised a simple solution to the so-called housing problem.

Firstly, for the benefit of the public who do not know of the situation we are facing, I should explain that HDC is devising a new development plan for the Horsham district up to 2031 and the purpose of the SPAG meeting was to discuss the number of housing required for this timeframe.

The four options presented for public consultation in February are: Option A – 11,800 (590 per annum), Option B – 12,700 (635 per annum), Option C – 13,400 (670 per annum) or Option D – 14,600 (730-plus per annum). Now, these options (and the draft consultation document) fail to mention, as rightly pointed out by one councillor at the SPAG meeting, that the public actually has an Option E – lower than A or higher than D.

Perhaps I should note here that the housing level for the last five years has been 290 per annum (which during this time we have seen many large scale developments in many of our once-rural villages – including the proposals for 500 at Billingshurst, 500 at Southwater and the recently unveiled plans for 4,000 north of Horsham!).

The second major point that the public should be aware of is what HDC is calling the 9 Strategic Site Options including 3,000 houses west of Ifield; 2,000-3,000 at Faygate; 3,500 in North Horsham (two sites); 1,500 at Chesworth Farm, south Horsham; 2,750 west of Southwater; 1,750 east of Billingshurst and – the two sites of much concern to readers of the South Downs edition of the WSCT – 4,000 houses at the North Heath New Town site and a rather ominous option entitled ‘Pulborough Expansion’.

Although there was a lot of confusion as to what sites are actually being looked at this time around at the SPAG meeting (in 2010 four of these sites were dropped from the list as they were deemed unsustainable) the chairman informed all present that all these options will be up for consideration once again and also that several more sites were likely to come forward from elsewhere in the district.

The general feeling at the end of the SPAG meeting was that the pound sign seems to have more deliberation than the residents of the Horsham district with several councillors insisting that more houses means an increase in the economic growth rate (though how this would come about is not explained) and that the more houses that are built, the more affordable houses are built and all new builds will become progressively cheaper (although land prices, and therefore building costs, will increase as more urbanisation occurs in the countryside).

It was also suggested by the chairman that the higher levels of housing will allow the Horsham district to help the surrounding districts to meet their own housing needs! This suggestion met with a lot of absolutely astonished – some might even say disgusted – faces on the public benches.

If these other districts cannot meet their housing needs because they developed all their available land prematurely is no one’s fault but their own and it should serve as a lesson to HDC that this programme of large scale urbanisation is not sustainable.

A further comment from councillor Roger Arthur was another cause for concern to local democracy when he stated that HDC couldn’t just listen to what the residents of the district want, but that they need to please the Planning Inspectorate!

A very sensible point, however, was raised by councillor David Holmes that HDC should refrain from setting a definitive development programme for the next 20 years since there is so much uncertainty in the economy, job market, housing market, etc, and that they should instead build at a much reduced rate (since only a very small percentage of new build market houses are actually selling) and review the situation every few years so that development can cater for changes in the situation more appropriately.

This motion, however, met with criticism from several other councillors who were advocates of essentially destroying the countryside in some misguided notion that this will improve quality of life for everyone, will make us all better off and is the only possible way that enough affordable housing can be built!

Where is the logic in this? The answer that I propose, as hinted at the start of this letter, is to stop all these large scale developments to gain a small number of affordable housing and instead plan for much, much smaller scale builds of affordable housing to meet local needs and focus primarily on filling the 1,200 empty homes in the Horsham district.

This means that housing lists can be dealt with (with 1,100 currently on the waiting list), the market will not be flooded with hundreds of more unaffordable, Lego-brick houses and between 1-1.3km2 of Sussex countryside and farmlands can be saved (based upon Options A – D). Simple!

MARTIN DALE

Secretary, The Campaign to Protect Rural Pulborough Village

Codmore Hill, Pulborough