LETTER: Urgent need for public meeting

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Given that HDC’s ‘meeting in public’ - held to consider the Council’s Draft Preferred Strategy (DPS) on 13 Feb was clearly set up to exclude any possibility of meaningful expression of public opinion, it is perhaps surprising that so many turned out (at one point as many as 100 were seen in the overflow annex). Doubtless the number would have been greater had this not been scheduled for 5.30 on a weekday.

Anyone who had hoped that the meeting might provide some enlightenment was quickly disabused. The highly distorted public Q&A session was particularly uninformative, especially as no supplementary questions were allowed.

The staged nature of the proceedings was reflected in the way a number of questions – notably from supporters of Cllr Vickers ( Con, Southwater, chairing the meeting) – were in the form of speeches rather than questions, to which there was no come-back opportunity.

Still more disappointing was the performance of the so-called experts instructed to provide evidence in support of the DPS.

The transport consultant sent to reassure us that the impact of increased traffic flows arising from the proposed North Horsham development would be perfectly manageable clearly dismayed several councillors – and provoked derision among some in the audience – by his ill-informed presentation.

As for the ‘independent’ consultant from Lichfield and Partners, his hard-sell attempt to convince us of the need for a new state-of-the art business park in North Horsham was conspicuous for its lack of solid evidence.

His credibility was fatally undermined when, asked by a councillor why his findings were in such sharp conflict with those of the previous consultants hired by HDC in 2009 – who concluded there was not likely to be significant need for additional business space in the district mainly because Horsham was not considered a prime office location – he claimed that the earlier study was undertaken ‘in the depths of the recession’, as if he would have us believe we are now in the middle of a boom.

His clear suggestion – that the only way to attract investment and jobs to the district is to build high-specification premises even without any sign of demand for them – was echoed by the final presentation, by none other than the executive director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative (GDI).

Her extreme bullishness about the prospects for the proposed new North Horsham business park seemed particularly surprising given that the GDI’s own Local Strategic Statement – which she somehow omitted to mention – clearly indicates there is little need for more business space in the area as a whole (particularly outside the Crawley-Redhill corridor) other than for warehousing or distribution.

Following this barrage of ill-founded and unconvincing hype from the ‘experts’, it was perhaps a sign of the desperation of Cllr Vickers and her supporters to insist that there was really no need for further debate on the DPS and that the council - and residents - had no choice but to adopt it virtually unaltered.

It was, however, pointed out by LibDem councillors that the public had been encouraged from the outset of the consultation process last July to come up with alternative strategy proposals, two of which have now been produced; hence it is only right that a) these alternatives be given proper consideration and b) an open public meeting be called (as many have long demanded) to discuss all the options.

In view of the evident determination of the ruling majority to foist this destructive, developer-inspired white elephant on Horsham it is now up to the public to urgently press all councillors to ensure such a meeting is called without delay – before the council votes on the proposals scheduled for April.

Contacts for a letter to your councillor here:http://www.horsham.gov.uk/1632.aspx

I. ROHVARGER (Mrs)

Pondtail Road, Horsham