Councillor Roger Arthur has performed a valuable service in drawing attention to the dangerous and unrealistic approach being followed by the government in determining the housing needs of Horsham and other districts round the country - and to the evasive reaction of the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, when it is pointed out to him that the house building targets thereby set for a district like Horsham based on arbitrary national criteria are completely undeliverable.
He has also highlighted how this irrational policy is leaving us exposed to the threat of indiscriminate developer-led expansion in the event that HDC fails to produce a Local Plan ambitious enough to satisfy the unelected Planning Inspector – a demand to which Councillor Dawe and his colleagues seem only too willing to surrender.
Instead of accepting this intolerable imposition the council should be demanding that in already densely populated and relatively wealthy areas such as Horsham the local authority be allowed to adopt a strategy based on organic growth rather than one based on attempting vainly to maximise growth beyond what is realistic, whether economically or environmentally.
This would also be more in keeping with the criterion of sustainable economic development laid down in the National Planning Policy Framework – defined by the five guiding principles of ‘living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly’ - rather than prioritising economic growth at all costs, as Cllr Dawe and his colleagues tell us we must do.
It appears from the Minister’s response to Cllr Arthur that he accepts that local housing plans should be more flexible and realistic than is implied by using rather meaningless ONS population projections as a basis for determining future needs.
If he is serious he must publish his promised new National Planning Practice Guidance to local authorities without delay, enabling them and the Planning Inspectorate to adopt a more flexible approach.
If he fails to do so we may well find ourselves, as Cllr Arthur and others have pointed out, increasingly at the mercy of private developers – whose priority is obviously the maximisation of their own profits, with scant regard for the interests of the public in Horsham – while the council, which is supposed to protect our interests, can too easily plead its impotence to do so.
If Mr Boles does not act soon to make good his professed commitment to giving councils greater flexibility in this regard he will provide HDC and other authorities with continued cover for sacrificing the welfare of local communities to private developers.
In that event citizens will be forced to mount more and more campaigns to save their environment and way of life from further monstrosities such as the proposed North Horsham development – failing any support from their elected representatives.
So much for the Tories being champions of localism!
Allingham Gardens, Horsham