Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communication, Helena Croft (Roffey North), denied the charge that Horsham District Council (HDC) is ‘developer-led’ at a recent publicly held cabinet meeting (20.3.14).
I have just received a response (dated 16 April 2014) from HDC to a Freedom of Information request (FoI) which states that on 6 February 2014 Cllr Claire Vickers, Cabinet Member for Planning; HDC’s Chief Executive Tom Crowley; and an HDC planning officer met with Liberty at their Kings Hill site in Kent with Andrew Blevins (Liberty Property Trust UK), Susan Davies (Liberty Property Trust UK), Caroline Binns (Liberty Property Trust UK), Derek Lloyd (Liberty Property Trust UK), Adam Walker (Crickmay) and Steve Harvey (Huntley LLP).
As the short and redacted notes of the meeting reveal Caroline Binns is Liberty’s Associate Director for Marketing & Leasing and Susan Davies is Liberty’s Residential estates co-ordinator.
Quite why HDC wish to meet with Liberty’s business and marketing people at this point in the planning process when HDC was putting together a plan for a 20 year housing land supply is beyond me.
At this stage HDC was supposed to be evaluating residents’ comments on its Hobson’s choice of an industrial park in North Horsham but it seems that HDC was ploughing on regardless – its mind closed to all other options.
There are supposed to be ‘Chinese Walls’ between planning officers and those officers with responsibility for commercial considerations at HDC but this seemingly has gone out the window. The notes record with regards to the industrial park: ‘it is coming – message to community’.
So when North Horsham Parish Council (NHPC) said: “It is a classic example of a local authority becoming too close to a developer and thereby losing the ability to use the uncertainty surrounding a major national planning strategy in a way that protects its community…”
NHPC were spot on. And Cllr Liz Kitchen and Cllr Christian Mitchell were correct then when they said that HDC is ‘hell bent’ and ‘railroading’ through this Liberty plan.
So the evidence shows that Cllr Helena Croft is clearly very wrong indeed in her denial.
Old Holbrook, Horsham
A spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “It is normal for council members and officers to meet with prospective developers and other interested parties, including organisations and individuals who oppose planning applications and potential land allocations. This is the case across the country. The visit was one of many site visits to various destinations, arranged for council members and officers to inform further deliberation about the draft district planning framework.
“The purpose of this particular visit was to enable the HDC representatives to see the Kings Hill development and to discuss the history and the economic and social success of the scheme. The council has no property interests in the north Horsham land and the writer is mistaken in suggesting that there was a conflict of interest between planning and commercial considerations.’’