The recently concluded Examination of the Horsham District Planning Framework (HDPF) has cast further doubt on the soundness of the Plan, as revised in the light of the Planning Inspector’s (PI) Initial Findings following the hearings last year.
This emerged at the resumed hearing on the Plan on 3 July – which added to doubts over the sustainability of the proposed North Horsham Strategic Development (NHSD) raised by the motion (narrowly defeated at a council meeting on 24 June) to have the NHSD deleted.
This hearing revealed that the number of new dwellings needed in the District – which was increased in the revised HDPF from 650 to 750 units p.a. - has still not been justified based on objective criteria (based on what was said at the hearing on 3 July such exaggerated projections of potential housing need – which are driven entirely by the unsubstantiated claims of developers – may be raised even further - to 800-900 units p.a. - around double the 453 pa average actually built before the recession).
Both HDC and the PI are now taking a more conservative view of potential employment growth than is reflected in the PI’s Initial Findings, so that they now regard a projection of 275 new jobs a year (in line with the historic average for the period 1997-2013) as more realistic than the 445 they then considered justifiable.
The Inspector appears to have shifted his position on the viability of the Business Park, to which he had previously given guarded support – mainly, it would appear, because there is no evidence of commercial demand for such premises.
Whereas the potential impact of NHSD on traffic flows and the environment in the adjacent areas was viewed in the PI’s Initial Findings as an easily manageable issue, it has now been revealed as potentially a major constraint to the viability of the development – reflected in the inclusion of MM23 in the revised draft Plan, requiring a ‘comprehensive transport assessment’, which could reveal the need for major infrastructure improvements for which there is no financial provision.
These considerations arguably undermine the Inspector’s endorsement in his Initial Findings for the Plan’s overall strategy of concentrating growth in the main settlements rather than one of greater dispersal to smaller settlements (Para 4), which he claims ‘would be likely to lead to a less sustainable pattern of development with regard to transport patterns...’.
The reasons this view is no longer tenable are there is no objectively assessed need for more than around 400-500 new dwellings a year; likewise the scale of potential new job creation in the District is most unlikely to exceed the historic (pre-recession) level of around 250-275 p.a.
In any event; concentration of growth in an area such as North Horsham already suffering from significant traffic congestion now appears a less sustainable and more costly option than dispersal of growth to smaller settlements; government policy has recently shifted in favour of boosting small scale development and greater emphasis on the use of brownfield sites (as confirmed in the 8 July budget).
This is also aimed at encouraging smaller developers / builders, who have traditionally been more inclined to undertake small brownfield developments – thus also boosting the local economy.
Such shifting considerations make dispersed development in smaller settlements appear more attractive and sustainable than greenfield development (though not for the big developers, for whom the large speculative profits available on greenfield sites – but not on brownfield – are the real attraction).
This points to the need for the council to withdraw the current version of the HDPF and prepare a new one without delay.
To save time it should consider the Alternative Strategy prepared by a group of councillors in January 2014 as a starting point, particularly as this is geared to dispersed development and prioritising brownfield sites.
This will give councillors an opportunity to promote the true interest of the Horsham public and prevent alien commercial interests, unconcerned with the aspirations of the local community, from doing it irreparable harm.
This letter is based on an article ‘Time for a Plan that meets our own needs and aspirations’, which can be found at http://www.futurehorsham.info/alternatives/
Allingham Gardens, Horsham
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