I attended the meeting of Horsham district councillors held 13 February; the main purpose of which was to justify the council’s contentious proposed development north of Horsham.
In her opening remarks, Cllr Vickers, the meeting’s chair, explained that to be acceptable to the Planning Inspectorate the ‘Preferred Strategy’ had to be fact-based.
At the meeting, consultants who had been commissioned by the council to provide the required ‘facts’, presented them to the district councillors - with the public in attendance.
Doubtless the council’s leadership regretted their allowing the public to be present when intelligent questioning by Cllr Chidlow (Con, Southwater) revealed that the methodology used by the consultants employed to forecast the impact of the ‘Preferred Strategy’ on traffic flow and to advise on essential mitigation measures was fundamentally flawed.
To the visible relief of the council’s leadership the economic growth assessment by another consultant enabled some councillors to conjure up a vision of shiny new buildings north of Horsham occupied by ‘high-end’, ‘high -quality’, ‘knowledge-based’ businesses, which they presumed would be attracted to north of Horsham and provide ‘highly paid’ jobs for Horsham’s young people.
None questioned closely the basis for the consultant’s optimistic forecast and the implied and contentious presumption that not only would the economy rapidly rebound to a pre-recession level but that growth would continue unabated to 2031 and beyond.
A suggestion by a doubting councillor that the proposed development north of Horsham might attract warehouses with low paid jobs was not properly considered. This inconvenient possibility did not match the vision.
However, as is recognised, demonstrated and clearly stated by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in its ‘Economic and Fiscal Outlook’ (March 2013) ‘There is considerable uncertainty around any economic forecast’ – likewise the consultant’s forecast.
Disturbingly, the need for additional infrastructure and essential services in consequence of the ‘Preferred Strategy’ was not on the meeting’s agenda.
Although one councillor was concerned that the ‘Preferred Strategy’ did not provide for a new hospital, the council’s leaders appeared not to share her concerns. Clearly she was not ‘on message’ and, as was made clear at this meeting, criticism and dissent will not be tolerated.
Will the council’s leaders and officers exercise proper due diligence and provide objective scrutiny of the ‘facts’ provided by its consultants – as they should? Do they understand the methodology and models employed by these same consultants? I fear not.
Dr R.F. SMITH
For and on behalf of Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sussex-Horsham District, Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield