LETTER: Pickles over-rules council objections

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Regarding the Horsham District Planning Framework Preferred Strategy Consultation, I write to make two points.

One is based on the reality of what is happening when councils turn down planning applications and the other asks what would happen if the council was to change or abandon its Preferred Strategy which is now out for consultation.

Picking up my first point, I thought that I would draw readers’ attention to something that has come over my desk this week as I feel it provides a clear message for all councils and also for the public.

Last week, Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Minister, allowed two plans from developers for the building of hundreds of homes north of Basingstoke even though the local council there had refused both applications.

The council had claimed that ‘considerable harm would be caused by the scheme and that the proposals would not constitute sustainable development’.

However, in a decision letter sent on behalf of Eric Pickles it said that these appeals were ‘made against a background of a ‘serious and significant’ shortfall in housing and land supply’ and that Basingstoke Council was not able to demonstrate a five year housing land supply (sites that are available and can be built in any five year period) and so he was allowing the homes to be built.

What has this to do with Horsham, you might ask?

Well, quite simply, despite having existing permissions for nearly 8,000 homes, inspectors say that we cannot demonstrate a five year land supply either!

In all recent appeals where we, Horsham district councillors, have refused an application in our district, nearly all have subsequently been allowed by inspectors against our wishes.

How do we stop this situation?

The simple fact is that until we have an adopted Strategy that provides a five year housing land supply, we cannot resist developments at appeal which is a cost to our council tax payers and the homes will get built anyway.

Now to point two; our Preferred Strategy could be changed as a result of the consultation if good alternatives come forward.

However, whichever plan we end up with has to go before a Government inspector and such people are no fools!

Their examination will also go back and look at any option that has been suggested in the past and North of Horsham has been looked at since 2009. So in or out of the Strategy, it won’t make the North of Horsham option disappear and it will be examined!

This consultation is your chance - the public’s chance - to look at the facts and give us your comments.

There have, however, been numerous responses so far based not on the facts but on misinformation and unsubstantiated scaremongering.

Perhaps the most extreme one, commented on by many people, is the idea that there will be unsavoury criminal activity in an underpass, yet no underpass is even planned!

There was also mention of an ‘industrial wasteland’ and yet what is proposed is a high quality business park. We need please real comments on the actual proposals and suggestions of alternatives that work and will be approved by an inspector.

I would of course rather see any new homes built on existing brownfield sites and not on any green fields. However, there are simply not enough viable brownfield sites to accommodate what is needed to satisfy the requirement put upon us.

I simply tell readers this so they understand that while we have produced what we think is the best strategy for our district and tried to maximise the benefits, any delay or hesitation in it opens the possibility of an appeal not only on any of the sites within the strategy but also any that aren’t in it, and the likelihood is that the homes will get built anyway but without the infrastructure and local services that our communities need.

So while maybe people can produce a whole list of objections to any site, hoping plans for it will go away, the reality is somewhat different.

CLAIRE VICKERS

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