Open process is so crucial

It has been wittily said that there are three kinds of falsehood; lies, damned lies and statistics. To these we would like to add a fourth; ‘the expert report’.

A prime example of the latter has recently come to light.

Berkeley Homes wants to build on land which has been tenant farmed by the Charman family for the best part of 200 years. The viability of the farming enterprise if it were to lose a large proportion of its land to development has been an issue from the outset.

Berkeley Homes commissioned a report specifically on the viability issue from an ‘expert’ and submitted this to Horsham District Council. It said that although it was likely that 43 per cent of his land might be lost, they considered the farm would still be a viable financial concern and they quoted financial projections to back up their contention.

This report was accepted without question by the council which in turn presented it as ‘fact’, with no caveats, to the district councillors prior to the aborted hearing in February.

We questioned the validity of this report on a number of occasions but were met with a brick wall from the council – until English Heritage highlighted the fact that if farming on the site were to cease this would constitute ‘substantial harm’ to the Grade 2* farmhouse.

Then at last the council had to reconsider. It commissioned a neutral and far more informed report which concludes firmly ‘the present cattle enterprise will not be able to continue should the residential and school development proceed’.

We trust this will give district councillors pause for thought. Why is the council, on whom councillors rely so heavily for balanced information, not providing it? Is the council and the responsible cabinet member so in thrall to Berkeley’s that they accept everything that it says, or is said on its behalf by instructed ‘experts’, without question? If one report was false what others may of doubtful validity?

Questions need to be asked by members and the process needs to be open and transparent if trust, which is so crucial, is to be restored.

Dr IAN THWAITES

for Keep Southwater Green, Marlhurst, Southwater