Letters: Rights of Rudgwick residents are trampled on

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There are currently two planning refusals subject to appeal in Rudgwick, both for traveller/gypsy pitches. The local community has been shocked to hear that the first of these appeals has been allowed, so making the development of the site inevitable, though with many conditions attached.

Is there any basis on which to consider this an unsound decision? Before trying to answer that, those who live close to the site feel it is timely to warn residents of Horsham District that the decision was made in the knowledge that the Horsham District Planning Framework ‘is of limited weight’ because the proposed traveller site allocations may not be ‘found sound’, and doubt as to whether the ‘supporting evidence base is sufficiently robust’.

There is no five-year supply of sites in Horsham, and, even if the current examination in public of the HDPF leads to it being adopted in the time scale hoped for, there will not be a five-year supply at that time (sites having only been identified to 2017). A further four pitches will be required per year up to 2027 in Horsham according to the needs assessment.

The Inspector was bombarded both by local residents and by HDC with evidence that the proposed site was unsuitable on three main grounds, viz., countryside policies, distance from local services, and proximity to a Listed building. None of these carried sufficient weight to offset the argument for needs of travellers.

The first of these was discounted because, despite being in an outlying loose-knit hamlet, the two pitches are said not to ‘dominate the settled community’, only causing a ‘small negative effect’ on the character of an area which has seen virtually no development in recent years. Similarly, the highway network, such as it is, mainly single carriageway unnamed lanes, is pronounced safe.

It seems that virtually nowhere is too far from local services in our crowded district for travellers to access health, school, shops and bus services, even if only accessible in practice by car. The only test is of them being ‘reasonably located’. This site is well outside the built-up area boundary, and the ‘wrong side’ of the dangerous A281, but this carries no weight.

The location in a greenfield site next to a Grade II Listed building accurately dated to the mid 14th century, and one of four particularly old houses in the parish, was emphasised by Rudgwick residents and by the Horsham heritage officer, but as the latter was not prepared to go beyond a statement of ‘less than substantial harm’ to the heritage asset, the Inspector whilst recognising the negative effect on the setting of the house agreed it was not substantial, and ‘when looked at in the round, sustainable development would be achieved’.

In short, our warning to others is that we cannot rely either on HDC policy, or on countryside, heritage or poor accessibility to protect our communities from development of traveller sites.

These, I would remind readers, must comprise standard pitches each with one static mobile home, one touring caravan, an amenity building and an appropriate area of hardstanding, none of which has any visual quality to recommend it. In this case, several other houses in close proximity, in addition to the Listed building, overlook the field.

The rights of the residents are being trampled on. With rights go responsibilities, and responsible home owners take care of their properties, and take pride in their community. We would oppose a house or houses on this site, and rather think it would not be allowed for the reasons stated above. But the rights of the non-settled community are uniquely protected by European law and its enactment into British law, hence the standard pitch outlined above.

The Inspector was supplied with information about the personal circumstances of the two families who we are told will take up residence. I have met these two families (totalling ten people) both at the hearing and on site, and found them to be reasonable and sensible people who we can hope will make good neighbours.

However, who is to say it will be these families who actually live here? Why does the Inspector take at face value, and with no supporting evidence, all the details of the current way of life, housing needs, work patterns, etc, provided by the applicant’s agent who is a well known individual who fights the traveller corner all over the country?

Is this an opportunity to challenge the Inspector’s decision? And what of the future of the rest of the field as a paddock?

Even if the conditions applied by HDC include a veto on any loss of grazing here, what if a further application is received for intensification of the site? There is space here for a further two to six pitches.

Will this be another battle we will lose in five years’ time? What hope is there now in the appeal inquiry on the other site in the parish, to be considered in the New Year?

All of Horsham District be warned. Public benefit outweighs local harm.

ROGER NASH

Rudgwick Preservation Society, Tismans Common, Rudgwick