LETTER: Landmark event for plan system

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This is an open letter to Horsham MP Francis Maude.

On 20 May, members of HDC’s Development Control (South) Committee approved by a narrow majority a contentious application to build 50 dwellings on countryside adjoining Marringdean Road, Billingshurst despite strong opposition from Billingshurst’s Parish Council and eloquent objections from those committee members who spoke against the application.

This decision is a landmark event for planning in Horsham District because HDC’s officers informed members that a refusal would be overturned on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate – and that to approve was their only option.

The officers reminded members that Horsham District did not have a five year housing land supply and explained that the ‘Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) Proposed Submission’ is still at the consultation stage and was therefore irrelevant to decision making.

They indicated too that because of the lack of five­year housing land supply the HDPF would provide little or no protection to the District against developer imposed unplanned development until it had been approved by the Planning Inspectorate.

This has huge ramifications not only for Billingshurst where further applications by developers are expected but also for other villages across Horsham District that are equally vulnerable to developer­imposed development.

That HDC lacks a five year housing land supply is hardly surprising. The huge target of 13,000 houses set for the District by the revoked South East Plan, which continues to be enforced by the Planning Inspectorate, is excessive and the required build rate of 650 houses per year has proved unachievable.

Moreover, because developers reduced build rates during the recession a substantial shortfall of un­built houses has accumulated in consequence.

Unfortunately the Planning Inspectorate insists that this shortfall be added to the District’s five year target and the requirement to build 650 houses per year has been increased to more than 1,200 houses per year.

By imposing a target that is impossible to attain the Planning Inspectorate has enabled developers to impose development and in so doing has excluded communities and their elected representatives from effective decision making. This is inequitable and unjust.

Horsham MP Francis Maude acknowledged last year in a letter to the WSCT (23 May 13) that there were ‘transitional issues with planning’ and that there was ‘a serious concern about the interpretation of the requirement for councils to have a five year supply of land for development’ and that he would be meeting with Mr Boles, the minister with responsibility for planning, ‘with a view to finding solutions”. Apparently ‘solutions’ were neither found nor allowed by Mr Boles.

I respectfully suggest that now is the time for Mr Maude to revisit Mr Boles with a view to finding solutions including the restoration of an equitable planning process that would allow effective decision making by elected representatives and protect communities and their countryside from developer­imposed unplanned development.

Dr R.F. SMITH

For Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Sussex, The Countryside Trust – Horsham District, Bashurst Copse, Itchingfield