LETTER: Strategy stirs up a hornet’s nest

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HDC’s Local Housing Plan has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest since it was issued for consultation, particularly in relation to North Horsham.

This coalition Government has not helped, by empowering an un-elected Planning Inspectorate (PI) to insist that the Local Plan must make provision for more houses than are likely to be built.

HDC has also been put under the threat of special measures, due to the time it has taken to determine planning applications. If it fails to meet Government targets, then developers will be encouraged to submit their applications directly to the PI.

However, neither of those issues account for delays in issuing the Local Plan and in progress with Neighbourhood Plans. Those delays, along with omissions in the Local Plan, continue to leave our countryside open to inappropriate development.

For example the Local Plan should have fully justified the reasons why alternative options were discounted, whilst demonstrating that infrastructure upgrading could be afforded. Concerns around such issues have been raised by councillors and by residents, whilst many believe that the capacity of roads and schools will not be increased in time to accommodate the new residents.

It should also be clear by now that a new hospital is unlikely to materialise, leaving thousands more with the prospect of ambulance response times extending to half an hour, or possibly more, not to mention long outpatient trips to a hospital in winter.

Many have asked for evidence that there will be a substantial demand for local employment space, asking where the jobs will come from and pointing out that there is already spare employment space in the area. The demand for that space will surely be driven by cost, location and availability of skills at competitive rates.

Of course, some companies have been reducing the size of their local operations, but it is not yet clear how the redundant capacity is going to be utilised.

Whilst most understand the need for more houses, partly due to the open borders policy, they do expect that the impact on our countryside and on communities should be managed and minimised. What they don’t deserve is that Localism should have been abandoned, or that Local Plans should be delayed and incomplete.

So, there are many reasons why our beautiful countryside is exposed unnecessarily to speculative development, but they are by no means all attributable to national Government, as much as some would like residents to think otherwise.

Clearly HDC must accept its share of the responsibility.

On other matters, could I clarify my part in the discussion at the council meeting dated 4th September.

In 2012 a number of members in the CTB Working Group, including myself, wanted to gauge the likely impact of reducing CT benefits to a small number of residents, at a time when Universal Benefits and Bedroom Tax were being implemented and when benefits had not been increasing in real terms.

There was clearly a potential risk that HDC’s estimated gain of £37,434 pa might be outweighed by the increased cost of chasing unpaid council tax, or even having to house families who have been pushed over the financial edge.

For those reasons we decided to defer the increase by one year and to learn from the experience of other Local Authorities (LAs) before implementing CTB changes. Most of the CTB WG understood that strategy.

It was in that context that I asked (at the council meeting) if the cabinet member had a feel for the likely impact, based on feedback from other LAs and he confirmed that he had.

So, provided that the impact is monitored for any significant increase in CT defaulters, then there is no reason why the strategy should not prove successful. As most members will have deduced, I was not questioning the strategy.

ROGER ARTHUR

(UKIP) Horsham distrist councillor for Chanctonbury ward, North Street, Horsham