LETTER: Huge risk if we have no Plan

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The Government requires district councils to produce a Local Plan to show how housing in their district will develop over a 20 year period. Last week in your paper, Dr Geoffrey Richardson accused me of being ‘wilfully ignorant’ of the public mood with regard to our Local Plan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the last two years I, along with other members of Horsham District Council, have had to take some very difficult decisions. It does not follow that because the decisions are not universally popular, I am unaware of public disquiet.

Our planning strategy was approved by the district council in April 2014. A Government appointed Planning Inspector then concluded that the number of houses to be built over the plan period needed to be increased by around 100 homes a year. In almost every other respect he supported it. He then set a timescale for the council to tell him how it would reach this increased number.

On March 18 the council will debate modifications to our Plan, primarily about how we can meet the Inspector’s requirements for the additional homes, since the remainder of it has already been endorsed by him.

I have seen suggestions in this newspaper ignoring the reality of the situation. If we do not meet the Inspector’s requirements or delay he will reject our Plan leaving us without one.

This would bring a huge risk for us all throughout our District. On those large sites that have already been given the green light by the inspector in the Plan, we would have great difficulty making a case to reject housing applications that would then stand up at an appeal. Significant costs would inevitably be incurred by the council and thus by all local taxpayers. There is also the risk that having lost an appeal our ability to control the application, the housing numbers in it and achieve community benefits would be considerably diminished.

Without an agreed Plan, all monies paid by developers to the new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be lost, not only to this council but to the parishes working on their Neighbourhood Development Plans who would otherwise have 25 per cent of the CIL to spend on their local infrastructure.

We believe that we can meet the Inspector’s requirements for additional homes. We have a significant number of planning permissions already given, along with further sites in the pipeline.

In addition, we propose to allocate new sites - on land south of Billingshurst for around 150 homes plus land for Brighton University’s proposed student accommodation on land formally used by Novartis in Horsham.

I do understand the feelings that new housing proposals can stir particularly for those living closest to where developments are proposed.

However, to say ‘No’ to the Inspector will not stop development and until we have our Plan fully agreed by him we do not have the ability to prevent even more housing.

CLAIRE VICKERS

(Con, Southwater) Cabinet Member for Living and Working Communities, Horsham District Council, North Street, Horsham