LETTER: Misinformation and secrecy

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Sadly Horsham District Council is responding to the Planning Inspector’s (PI) Initial Findings on the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) with its typical mixture of misinformation and secrecy.

Although the Inspector found that ‘the Plan is not sound as it stands and it would be contrary to the aims of the National Planning Policy Framework to let it progress to adoption without significant changes’ (para 28), councillor Claire Vickers (the responsible cabinet member) would seemingly have us believe that all that is required to render it sound is to include extra housing allocations of 2,000 dwellings (100 a year) and that with that proviso the Plan can be adopted without further scrutiny.

Hence they are proposing that the public consultation on the revised HDPF, due to run from 23 March to 5 May, can be confined to consideration of the proposed new housing allocations.

But this approach ignores a number of inconvenient truths:

1. The PI makes clear that his findings are ‘preliminary’ and do not rule on the soundness of certain components of the Plan, including ones that were the focus of much comment during the original consultation and subsequent Examination by the PI last year;

2. Modified housing allocations are likely to have consequential impact on other aspects of the Plan – such as road traffic – on which in any case the PI’s Initial Findings scarcely touch;

3. Although not specifically mentioned in his published findings it is understood that the Inspector has requested the council to undertake further work to demonstrate the alignment between the housing and employment figures – a point on which the Findings are explicitly critical of the Plan (para 10). This will obviously entail modification to the justification for the employment and housing need projections in the Plan;

4. The PI also states that the modified Plan will need to be subject to full public consultation (para 28).

In their desperation to get the modified Plan approved with the minimum possible of public scrutiny Cllr Vickers and her colleagues have apparently set up a totally non-transparent procedure for implementing the consultation. This involves:

a) keeping councillors in the dark as to the nature of the proposed modifications to the Plan until a PPAG meeting held on 5 March, from which the public were excluded under new rules introduced by Cllr Vickers in 2013;

b) swearing councillors to secrecy as to details of the proposals until the following week, evidently with a view to preventing any comment on them appearing in your issue of 12 March - the last to appear before the council meeting scheduled for 18 March, at which councillors will presumably be expected to vote on the proposals, even though they will scarcely have had time to consult their constituents on them (the publication date has still to be announced at the time of writing);

c)for the 18 March council meeting suspending the normal procedure whereby up to ten members of the public (selected on a first-come first served basis) can put questions in favour of one where a maximum of six, arbitrarily selected at short notice by the chairman, can make statements without Cllr Vickers having to answer any questions.

It may be imagined what the Horsham public will think of this further demonstration of the council’s contempt for them and the basic principles of democratic accountability. Let us hope they use both the consultation itself and the council election on 7 May to make their feelings clear.

HARRY SHUTT

Allingham Gardens, Horsham