LETTER: Has council failed on two counts?

Your letters
Your letters

Two of the most significant sentences in your paper (WSCT, 19.6.14, p10) were written by Cllr Christian Mitchell:

“The law requires that a local plan is adopted in accordance with the council’s Statement on Community Involvement (SCI) as well as requiring consultation on issues and options of alternative sites. In 2012 Mr Justice Lindblom quashed a decision of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council to rule out using land in Manydown village for the allocation of housing in its Core Strategy because of political interference in ruling that strategic site out where previously it had been chosen for housing.”

Hasn’t HDC failed on both these counts? At its meeting of council on 23 September 2011 HDC adopted and reviewed its Statement of Community Involvement (‘SCI’). The opening paragraph in the introduction to the SCI states:

“The aim of the Horsham District Council Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) is to ensure that the community is genuinely involved in the production of Planning Policy documents and to strengthen community involvement in planning and development in the District over time.” (para 1.1)

Section 3 of the SCI sets out those who will be involved with the council and with regard to SPAG/ PPAG, at section 3.8 it states:

“Strategic Planning Advisory Group (SPAG)

3.8 The role of this group of elected Council Members is to advise and work with the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning on planning policy issues. The membership of the group is cross-party and all Members of the Council can attend and receive the papers. The group meets on a regular basis and the meetings are open to the public. The meetings are advertised in the local newspapers and are generally attended by Parish and Neighbourhood Councils, developers and the press. As the meeting is public, it provides the community with an early opportunity to listen to the debate and discussion before the matters are discussed on a more formal basis through the Council system (see below).”

Cllr Vickers told the County Times on 30 June 2013:

“Since becoming the cabinet member for living and working communities, I have realised that we need to be able to have a more open and frank debate at our Strategic Planning Advisory Group meetings. I have therefore decided that we will no longer be holding SPAG meetings in public, as per other advisory groups of Horsham District Council.” (my italics)

llr Vickers subsequently (22 May 2013) changed the name from SPAG to PPAG but did this retrospectively ignoring the SCI policy agreed by full council in September 2011.

And as for political interference, well your paper has been full of it over the last 12 months. HDC (under Cllr Vickers’ stewardship) – in secret and in only a six week period in 2013 radically changed the Preferred Strategy reducing the previous allocation of houses in its Southwater strategic site stated in its Core Strategy so they could be dumped in north Horsham. The Inspector may well regard this as ‘political interference’. I wonder how Cllr Dawe, Vickers, Croft and Rae will talk their way out of it.

Dr Geoffrey Richardson

Tennyson Close, Horsham